Transformation in the character of Theodoric--His title--Embassies to

Zeno and Anastasius--Theodoric's care for the rebuilding of cities and

repair of aqueducts--Encouragement of commerce and manufactures--Revival

of agriculture--Anecdotes of Theodoric.

Thus far we have followed the fortunes of a Teutonic warrior of the

fifth century of our era, marking his strange vacillations between

ship and enmity to the great civilised Empire under the shattered

fabric whereof he and his people were dwelling, and neither concealing

nor extenuating any of his lawless deeds, least of all that deed of

treachery and violence by which he finally climbed to the pinnacle of

supreme power in Italy. Now, for the next thirty years, we shall have to

watch the career of this same man, ruling Italy with unquestioned

justice and wise forethought, making the welfare of every class of his

subjects the end of all his endeavours, and cherishing civilisation (or,

as it was called in the language of his chosen counsellors, civilitas)

with a love and devotion almost equal to that which religious zeal

kindles in the hearts of its surrendered votaries.

The transformation is a marvellous one. Success and unquestioned

dominion far more often deprave and distort than ennoble and purify the

moral nature of man. But something like this transformation was seen

when Octavian, the crafty and selfish intriguer, ripened into the wise

and statesmanlike Augustus. Nor have our own days been quite ignorant of

a similar phenomenon, when the stern soldier-politician of Germany, the

man who once seemed to delight in war and whose favourite motto had till

then been blood and iron having secured for his master the hegemony of

Europe, strove (or seems to have striven), during twenty difficult

years, to maintain peace among European nations, like one convinced in

his heart that War is the supreme calamity for mankind.

It is a threadbare saying, Happy is the nation that has no annals, and

the miserable historians of the time tell us far too little about the

thirty years of peace which Italy enjoyed under the wise rule of

Theodoric; still we are told enough to enable us in some degree to

understand both what he accomplished and how he accomplished it. And one

thing which makes us accept the statements of these historians with

unquestioning belief is that they have no motive for the praises which

they so freely bestow on the great Ostrogoth. They are not his

countrymen, nor his fellow-religionists. Our chief authorities are Roman

and Orthodox, and bitterly condemn Theodoric for the persecution of the

Catholics, into which, as we shall see, he was provoked in the last two

years of his reign. Still, over the grave of this dead barbarian and

heretic, when they have nothing to gain by speaking well of him, they

cannot forbear to praise the noble impartiality and anxious care for the

welfare of his people, which, for the space of one whole generation,

gave happiness to Italy. It will be well to quote here one or two of

these testimonies, borne by impartial witnesses.

Our chief authority,[58] who is believed to have been a Catholic Bishop

of Ravenna, says:

He was an illustrious man, and full of good-will towards all. He

reigned thirty-three (really thirty-two) years, and during thirty of

these years so great was the happiness of Italy that even the wayfarers

were at peace. For he did nothing wrong. So did he govern the two

nations, the Goths and Romans, as if they were one people, belonging

himself to the Arian sect, yet he ordained that the civil administration

should remain for the Romans as it had been under their Emperors. He

gave presents and rations to the people, yet, though he found the

Treasury ruined, he brought it round, by his own hard work, into a

flourishing state. He attempted nothing (during these first thirty

years) against the Catholic faith. Exhibiting games in the circus and

amphitheatre, he received from the Romans the names of Trajan and

Valentinian (the happy days of which most prosperous Emperors he did in

truth seek to restore), and, at the same time, the Goths rendered true

obedience to their valiant King, according to the Edict which he had

promulgated for them.

He gave one of his daughters in marriage to the King of the Visigoths

in Gaul, another to the son of the Burgundian King; his sister to the

King of the Vandals, and his niece to the King of the Thuringians. Thus

he pleased all the nations round him, for he was a lover of manufactures

and a great restorer of cities. He restored the aqueduct of Ravenna,

which Trajan had built; and again, after a long interval, brought water

into the city. He completed, but did not dedicate, the palace, and

finished the porticoes round it. At Verona he erected baths and a

palace, and constructed a portico from the gate to the palace. The

aqueduct, which had been long destroyed, he renewed, and brought in

water through it. He also surrounded the city with new walls. At Ticinum

(Pavia) too he built a palace, baths, and an amphitheatre, and erected

walls round the city. On many other cities also he bestowed similar


Thus he so charmed the nations near him that they entered into a league

with him, hoping that he would be their King. The merchants, too, from

divers provinces, flocked to his dominions, for so great was the order

which he maintained, that if any one wished to leave gold or silver on

his land (in his country house) it was as safe as in a walled city. A

proof of this was the fact that he never made gates for any-city of

Italy, and the gates already existing were not closed. Any one who had

business to transact could do it as safely by night as by day.

In his time men bought wheat at 60 pecks for a solidus (12 shillings

a quarter), and 30 amphorae of wine for the same price (2s. 4d. a


So far the supposed Bishop of Ravenna. Now let us hear Procopius, an

official in the Imperial army which brought the Ostrogothic kingdom to


Theodoric was an extraordinary lover of justice, and adhered rigorously

to the laws. He guarded the country from barbarian invasions, and

displayed the greatest intelligence and prudence. There was in his

government scarcely a trace of injustice towards his subjects, nor would

he permit any of those under him to attempt anything of the kind, except

that the Goths divided among themselves the same proportion of the land

of Italy which Odovacar had allotted to his partisans. Thus then

Theodoric was in name a tyrant (that is, an irregular, because

barbarian, ruler), but in deed a true King (or Emperor), not inferior to

the best of his predecessors, and his popularity grew greatly, both

among Goths and Italians, and this fact (that he was popular with both

nations) was contrary to the ordinary fashion of human affairs. For

generally, as different classes in the State want different things, the

government which pleases one party has to incur the odium of those who

do not belong to it.

After a reign of thirty-seven years[59] he died, having been a terror

to all his enemies, but leaving a deep regret for his loss in the hearts

of his subjects.

[Footnote 59: Really thirty-two years and a half from the death of

Odovacar, thirty-seven from the descent into Italy, thirty-eight from

Theodoric's departure from Novae.]

So much for the general aspect of Theodoric's rule in Italy. Now let us

consider rather more in detail what was his precise position in that

country. And first as to the title by which he was known. It is

singularly difficult to say what this title was. It is quite clear that

Theodoric never claimed to be Emperor of the West, the successor of

Honorius and Augustulus. But there are grave reasons for doubting

whether he called himself, as has been often stated, King of Italy. In

the fifth century territorial titles of this kind were, if not

absolutely unknown, at least very uncommon. The various Teutonic rulers

generally took their titles from the nations whom they led to battle,

Gaiseric being King of the Vandals and Alans, Gundobad, King of the

Burgundians, Clovis, King of the Franks, and so forth. Upon the

whole, it seems most probable that Theodoric's full title was King of

the Goths and Romans in Italy [60] and that the allusion to Romans in

his title explains some of the conflict of testimony as to the source

from whence he derived his title of King. It is quite true that a

Teutonic sovereign like Theodoric, sprung from a long line of royal

ancestors, and chosen by the voice of his people to succeed their king,

his father, would not need, and except under circumstances of great

national humiliation would not accept, any grant of the kingly title, as

ruler over his own nation, from the Augustus at New Rome. But when it

came to claiming by the same title the obedience of Romans as well as

Goths, especially in that country which had once been the heart of the

Empire,--Theodoric, King of the Goths, might well be anxious to strain

all the resources of diplomacy in order to obtain from the legitimate

head of the Roman world the confirmation of those important words and

Romans, which appeared in his regal title.[61]

In the year 490, probably soon after the battle of the Adda, Theodoric

sent Faustus, an eminent Roman noble and Chief of the Senate, on an

embassy to Zeno, hoping that he might receive from that Emperor

permission to clothe himself with the royal mantle. It will be

remembered that in the compact between Roman and Teuton, which preceded

Theodoric's invasion of Italy, words had been used which implied that he

was only to rule as locum tenens of the Emperor till he himself should

arrive to claim the supremacy. Now, with that conquest apparently almost

completed, and with his rival fast sealed up in Ravenna, Theodoric sends

a report of his success of the enterprise undertaken on joint account,

and desires to legalise his position by a formal grant of the mantle of

royalty from the Autocrat of the World.

The time of the arrival of Theodoric's embassy at Constantinople was

unpropitious, as the Emperor Zeno was already stricken by mortal

illness. On the 9th of April, 491, he died, and was succeeded by the

handsome but elderly life-guardsman, Anastasius, to whom Ariadne, widow

of Zeno, gave her hand in marriage. The rights and duties which

pertained to the compact between Theodoric and Zeno were perhaps

considered as of only personal obligation. It might plausibly be

contended by the Emperor's successor that he was not bound to recognise

the new royalty of his predecessor's, filius in arma, and by Theodoric

that the conditional estate in Italy granted to him to hold till Zeno

should himself arrive became absolute, now that by the death of Zeno

that event was rendered impossible. However this may be, we hear no more

of negotiations between the Gothic camp and the Court of Constantinople

till the death of Odovacar(493). Then the Goths, apparently in some

great assembly of the nation, confirmed Theodoric to themselves as

King, without waiting for the orders of the new Emperor.[62] Whatever

this ceremony may have imported, it must have in some way conferred on

Theodoric a fuller kingship, perhaps more of a territorial and less of a

tribal sovereignty than he had possessed when he was wandering with his

followers over the passes of the Balkans.

[Footnote 62: Gothi sibi confirmaverunt regem Theodericum, non expectata

jussione novi principis (Anastasii).--Anon. Vales., 57.]

Though Theodoric had not consulted the Emperor before taking this step,

he sent an ambassador, again Faustus, who now held the important post of

Master of the Offices,[63] to Constantinople, probably in order to

give a formal notification of his self-assumed accession of dignity.[64]

No messages or embassies, however, could yet soothe the wounded pride of

Anastasius. There was deep resentment at the Eastern Court, and for

three or four years there seems to have been a rupture of diplomatic

relations between Constantinople and Ravenna. At length, in the year

497, Theodoric sent another ambassador, Festus, (also an eminent Roman

noble and Chief of the Senate,) to Anastasius. This messenger, more

successful than his predecessor, made peace with Anastasius concerning

Theodoric's premature assumption of royalty, and brought back all the

ornaments of the palace which Odovacar had transmitted to


(497) This final ratification of the Ostrogoth's sovereignty in Italy is

so vaguely described to us that it is difficult to see how much it may

have implied. Probably it was to a certain extent convenient to both

parties that it should be left vague. The Emperor would not abandon any

hope, however shadowy, of one day winning back full possession of the

Hesperian kingdom. The King might hope that, in the course of years or

generations, he himself, or his descendants, might sever the last link

of dependence on Constantinople, perhaps might one day establish

themselves as full-blown Emperors of Rome. The claims thus left in

vagueness were the seeds of future difficulties, and bore fruit forty

years later in a bloody and desolating war, but meanwhile the position,

as far as we can ascertain it, seems to have been something like this.

Theodoric, King of the Goths and Romans in Italy, was absolute ruler

of the country de facto, except in so far as the Gothic nation,

assembled under arms at its periodical parades, may have exercised some

check on his full autocracy. He made peace and war, he nominated the

high officers of state, even one of the two Consuls, who still kept

alive the fiction of the Roman Republic; he probably regulated the

admissions to the Senate; he was even in the last resort arbiter of the

fortunes of the Roman Church.

On the other hand, he did not himself coin gold or silver money with his

effigy; but in this he was not singular, for it was not till a

generation or two had elapsed that any of the new barbarian royalties

thought it worth while to claim this attribute of sovereignty. Though

dressed in the purple of royalty, by assuming the title of King only, he

accepted a position somewhat lower than that of the Emperor of the New

Rome. He sent the names of the Consuls whom he had appointed to

Constantinople, an act which might be represented as a mere piece of

formal courtesy, or as a request for their ratification, according to

the point of view of the narrator. With a similar show of courtesy, or

submission, the accession of Theodoric's descendants to the throne was,

when the occasion arose, notified to the then reigning Emperor. And

there were many limitations which the good sense and statesmanlike

feeling of the Ostrogothic king imposed on his exercise of the royal

power, but which might be, perhaps were, represented as part of the

fundamental compact between him and the Emperor of Rome. Such were the

employment of men of Roman birth by preference, in all the great offices

of the state; absolute impartiality between the rival creeds, Catholic

and Arian (to the latter of which Theodoric himself was an adherent);

and a determination to abstain as much as possible from all fresh

legislation which might modify the rights and duties of the Roman

inhabitants of Italy, the legislative power being chiefly exercised in

order to provide for those new cases which arose out of the settlement

of so large a number of new-comers of alien blood within the borders of

the land.

After all the attempts which have been made to explain and to

systematise the relation between the new barbarian royalties and the old

and tottering Empire, much remains which is absolutely incapable of

definition, but perhaps an historical parallel, though not strictly

accurate, may somewhat aid our comprehension of the subject. It is

well-known how for the first hundred years of the English Raj in

India the power which actually resided in an association of traders,

the old East India Company, and which was wielded under their orders by

a Clive, a Hastings, or a Wellesley, was theoretically vested in an

Emperor, the descendant of the Great Mogul, who lived in seclusion in

his palace at Delhi, and who, though nominally all-powerful, had really,

as Macaulay has said, less power to help or to hurt than the youngest

civil servant of the Company. Now assuredly Anastasius and Justin, the

Imperial contemporaries of Theodoric, were no mere phantoms of royalty,

like the last Mogul Emperors of Delhi, but as far as actual efficacious

share in the government of Italy went, the parallel holds good. Such

deference as was paid to their name and authority was a mere courteous

form; the whole power of the State--subject, as has been said, to the

limitations still imposed by the popular institutions of the Goths--was

gathered up in the hands of Theodoric.

What then, it may be said, was gained by keeping up the fiction that

Italy still formed part of the Roman Empire, and that Theodoric ruled in

any sense as the delegate of the Emperor? For the present, much (though

at the cost of future entanglements and complications), since it

facilitated that union of Romania and Barbaricum, which was the next

piece of work obviously necessary for Europe. If the reader will recur

to that noble sentence of Ataulfus, which was quoted in the introduction

to this book,[66] he will see that the reasoning of that great chieftain

took this shape: A Commonwealth must have laws. The Goths, accustomed

for generations to their tameless freedom, have not acquired the habit

of obedience to the laws. Till they acquire that habit, the

administration of the State must be left in Roman hands, and all the

authority of the King must be used in defence of Roman organisation.

These principles, though he may never have read the passage of Orosius

which expounded them, were essentially the principles of Theodoric. So

long as he remained in antagonism to the Empire, he could not reckon on

the hearty co-operation of Roman officials in the task of government.

The brave, through patriotism, and the cowardly, through fear of coming

retribution, would decline to be known as his adherents, and would stand

aloof from his work of re-organization. But when it was known that even

the great Augustus at Constantinople, Our Lord Anastasius, Father of

his Country (as the coins styled him), recognised the royalty of

Theodoric, and had in some sort confided to him the government of Italy,

all the great army of civil servants, who performed the functions of

that highly specialised organism, the Roman State, could, without fear

and without reproach, accept office under the new-comer, and could look

forward again, as they had done before, to a fortunate official career,

to the honours and emoluments which were the recognised reward of the

successful civil servant.

In the next chapter, I shall describe with a little more detail the

character and the duties of some of these Roman officials. For the

present we will rather consider the nature of the work which Theodoric

accomplished through their instrumentality. We have already heard from a

nearly contemporary chronicler, the story of some of the great

civilising works which he wrought in the wasted land, the aqueducts of

Ravenna and Verona, the walls of Verona and Pavia, the baths, the

palace, and the amphitheatre. More important for the great mass of his

subjects was the perfect security which he gave to the merchant for his

commerce, to the husbandman for the fruit of his toil. Corn, as we have

seen, sank to the extraordinarily low price of twelve shillings a

quarter. But this low price did not mean, as it might in our country,

the depression of the agricultural interest, through the rivalry of the

foreign producer. On the contrary, the great economic symptom of

Theodoric's reign--and under the circumstances a most healthy

symptom--was that Italy, from a corn-importing became a corn-exporting

country. Under the old emperors, whose rule was a most singular blending

of autocracy and demagogy, in fact a kind of crowned socialism, every

nerve had been strained to bring from Alexandria and Carthage the corn

which was distributed gratuitously to the idle population of Rome. Under

such hopeless competition as this, together with the demoralising

influence of slave labour, large tracts of Italy had actually gone out

of cultivation. Now, by political changes, the merit of which must not

be claimed for the Ostrogothic government, both Egypt and Africa had

become unavailable for the supply of the necessities of Rome. Theodoric

and his ministers may however be praised for that prevalence of order

and good government, which enabled the long prostrate agriculture of

Italy to spring up like grass after a summer shower. The conditions of

prosperity were there, and only needed the removal of adverse influences

and mistaken benevolence to bring forth their natural fruit. The

grain-largesses to the people of Rome were indeed still continued in a

modified form, but the stores thus dispensed seemed to have been brought

almost entirely from Italy.[67] When Gaul was visited with famine, the

ship-masters along the whole western coast of Italy were permitted and

encouraged to take the surplus of the Italian crops to the suffering

province. Even in a time of dearth and after war had begun, corn was

sold by the State to the impoverished inhabitants of Liguria at sixteen

shillings a quarter.[68] Altogether we seem justified in asserting that

the economic condition of Italy, both as to the producers and the

consumers of its food-supplies, was more prosperous under Theodoric than

it had been for centuries before, or than it was to be for centuries


I have already made some reference to Aqueducts, which were among the

noblest and most beneficial works that any ruler of Italy could

accomplish. Ravenna, situated in an unhealthy swamp where water fit for

drinking was proverbially dearer than wine[69] was pre-eminently

dependent on such supplies of the precious fluid as could be brought

fresh and sparkling from the distant Apennines. Theodoric issued an

order to all the farmers dwelling along the course of the Aqueduct to

eradicate the shrubs growing by its side, which would otherwise fix

their roots in the bed of the stream, loosen the masonry, and cause many

a dangerous leak. This being done, said the Secretary of State, we

shall again have baths that we may look upon with pleasure, water which

will cleanse, not stain, water after using which we shall not require

again to wash ourselves: drinking-water, the mere sight of which will

not take away our appetite.[70] Similar care was needed to preserve the

great Aqueducts which were the glory of Imperial Rome, as even now their

giant arches, striding for miles over the desolate Campagna, are her

most impressive monument. At Rome also the officer who was specially

charged with the maintenance of these noble works, the Count of the

Aqueducts, was exhorted to show his zeal by rooting up hurtful trees,

and by at once repairing any part of the masonry that seemed to be

falling into decay through age. He was warned against peculation and

against connivance at the frauds which often marked the distribution of

the water supply, and he was assured that the strengthening of the

Aqueducts would constitute his best claim on the favour of his


But while in most parts of Italy water is a boon eagerly craved for, in

some places it is a superabundance and a curse. At Terracina on the

Latian coast there still stands in the piazza a slab of marble with a

long inscription, setting forth that The most illustrious lord and

renowed king, Theodoric, triumphant conqueror, ever Augustus, born for

the good of the Commonwealth, guardian of liberty and propagator of the

Roman name, subduer of the nations, ordered that nineteen miles of the

Appian Way, being the portion extending from Three-bridges

(Tripontium) to Terracina should be cleared of the waters which had

flowed together upon it from the marshes on either side. A nobleman of

the very highest rank, Consul, Patrician, and Prefect of the City,

Caecina Maurus Basilius Decius, successfully accomplished this work under

the orders of his sovereign, and for the safety thus afforded to

travellers, was rewarded by a large grant of the newly-drained


We have seen that Theodoric's anonymous panegyrist calls him a lover of

manufactures and a great restorer of cities. Of the manufactures

encouraged by the Ostrogothic king, we should have been glad to receive

a fuller account. All that I have been able to discover in the published

state-papers of himself and his successors at all bearing on this

subject is some instructions with reference to the opening of gold mines

in Bruttii (the modern Calabria), and iron mines in Dalmatia, a

concession of potteries to three senators, who are promised the royal

protection if they will prosecute the work diligently, and permission to

another nobleman to erect a row of workshops or manufactories

overlooking the Roman Forum.[73] The whole tenour of these State papers,

however, shows that public works were being diligently pushed on in

every quarter of Italy, and is entirely consistent with the praise

awarded to Theodoric as a lover of manufactures.

His zeal for the restoration of cities is by the same documents

abundantly manifested. At one time we find him giving orders for the

transport of marble slabs and columns to Ravenna, at another, directing

the repair of the walls of Catana, now rebuilding the walls and towers

of Arles, and now relieving the distress of Naples and Nola, which have

been half ruined by an eruption of Vesuvius.[74] His care for the

adornment of the cities of Italy with works of art is manifest, as well

as his zeal for their material enrichment. He hears with great disgust

that a brazen statue has been stolen from the city of Como. It is

vexatious says his Secretary, that while we are labouring to increase

the ornaments of our cities, those which Antiquity has bequeathed to us

should be diminished by such deeds as this. A reward of 100 aurei

(L60), and a free pardon is offered to any accomplice who will assist in

the discovery of the chief offender.[75]

But it is above all for Rome, for the glory and magnificence of Rome,

that this Ostrogothic king, in a certain sense the kinsman and

successor of her first ravager, Alaric, shows a tender solicitude. Her

Aqueducts, as we have seen, are to be repaired, her Cloacae, those still

existing memorials of the civilisation of the earliest, the regal, Rome,

are to be carefully upheld; the thefts of brass and lead from the public

buildings, which have become frequent during the disorders of the past

century, are to be sternly repressed[76]; a spirited patrician[77] who

has restored the mighty theatre of Pompeius is encouraged and rewarded,

the Prefect of the City is stimulated to greater activity in the repair

of all the ruined buildings therein. In Rome, praised beyond all other

cities by the world's mouth, it is not right that anything should be

found either sordid or mediocre.

In all these counsels for the material well-being of Italy, and for the

repair of the ravages of anarchy and war, Theodoric was undoubtedly much

assisted by his ministers of Roman extraction, some of whom I shall

endeavour to portray in a later chapter. Still, though the details of

the work may have been theirs, it cannot be denied that the initiative

was his. A barbarian, thinking only barbarous thoughts, looking upon war

and the chase as the only employments worthy of a free man, would not

have chosen such counsellors, and, if he had found them in his service,

would not have kept them. Therefore, remembering those years of boyhood,

which he passed at Constantinople, at a time when the character is most

susceptible of strong and lasting impressions, I cannot doubt that

notwithstanding the frequent relapses into barbarism which marked his

early manhood, he was at heart a convert to civilisation, that his

desire was to obtain for the Hesperian land all that he had seen best

and greatest in the social condition of the city by the Bosphorus, and

that his Secretary truly expressed his deepest and inmost thoughts when

he made him speak of himself as one whose whole care was to change

everything for the better.[78]

I shall close this chapter with a few anecdotes--far too few have been

preserved to us--which serve to show what manner of man he appeared to

his contemporaries. Again I borrow from the anonymous author, the

supposed Bishop of Ravenna.

He was, we are told, unlettered,[79] though fond of the converse of

learned men, and so clumsy with his pen that after ten years of reigning

he was still unable to form without assistance the four letters (THEO)

which were affixed as his sign-manual to documents issued in his name.

In order to overcome this difficulty he had a golden plate prepared with

the necessary letters perforated in it, and drew his pen through the

holes.[80] But, though he was unlettered, his shrewdness and mother-wit

caused both his sayings and doings to be much noted and remembered by

his subjects. In one difficult case which came before him, he discovered

the truth by a sudden device which probably reminded the bystanders of

the Judgment of Solomon, A young man who as a child had been brought up

by a friend of his deceased father, returned to his home and claimed a

share of his inheritance from his mother. She, however, was on the point

of marriage with a second husband, and under her suitor's influence she

disowned the son whom she had at first welcomed with joy and had

entertained for a month in her house. As the suitor persisted in his

demand that the son should be turned out of doors, and the son refused

to leave his paternal abode, the case came before the King's Court,[81]

where the widow still persisted in her assertion that the young man was

not her son, but a stranger whom she had entertained merely out of

motives of hospitality. Suddenly the king turned round upon her and

said: This young man is to be thy husband, I command thee to marry

him. The horror-stricken mother then confessed that he was indeed her


Some of Theodoric's sayings passed into proverbs among the common

people. One was: He who has gold and he who has a devil can neither of

them hide what he has got Another: The Roman when in misery imitates

the Goth and the Goth in comfort imitates the Roman.

We have unfortunately no description of the great Ostrogoth's outward

appearance, though the indications in his history would lead us to

suppose that he was a man of stalwart form and soldierly bearing. Nor is

this deficiency adequately made up to us by his coins, since, as has

been already said, the gold and silver pieces which were circulated in

his reign bore the impress of the Eastern Emperor, and the miserable

little copper coins which bear his effigy do not pretend to portraiture.