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Theodoric the Great

Theodoric the Great, c.454–526, king of the Ostrogoths and conqueror of Italy, b. Pannonia. He spent part of his youth as a hostage in Constantinople. Elected king in 471 after his father's death, he became involved in intrigues in which he was by turns the ally and the enemy of Byzantine emperor Zeno. In 483 he was appointed imperial master of soldiers and in 484 was consul. It was probably to be rid of him that Zeno commissioned him to lead a campaign against Odoacer in Italy. Theodoric with his Gothic army entered Italy in 488. He won battles at the Isonzo (489), at Milan (489), and at the Adda (490); he besieged and took Ravenna (493). Shortly after Odoacer's surrender Theodoric murdered him. Theodoric was now master in Italy; because of his great power he was able to avoid Byzantine supervision and thus was more than a mere official. His title was that of patrician. His long rule in Italy was most beneficent; he respected Roman institutions, preserved Roman laws, and appointed Romans to civil offices, at the same time retaining a Gothic army and settling Goths on the land. He improved the harbors and repaired the roads and public buildings. He allied himself by marriage with Clovis the Frank (Clovis I) and with the kings of the Visigoths, Vandals, and Burgundians. However, Clovis's ambition to rule all the Goths brought Theodoric into intermittent warfare with the Franks; between 506 and 523 Theodoric was several times successful in forestalling Frankish hegemony. An Arian, Theodoric was impartial in religious matters. The end of his reign was clouded by a quarrel with his Roman subjects and Pope John I over the edicts of Emperor Justin I against Arianism, and also by the hasty execution of the Roman statesman Boethius, whom he accused of treason. Theodoric is the prototype for Dietrich von Bern in the German epic poem Nibelungenlied. His tomb is one of the finest monuments of Ravenna. He was succeeded by his grandson Athalaric, under the regency of Theodoric's daughter Amalasuntha.

See T. Hodgkin, Theodoric the Goth (1891, repr. 1977); T. S. Burns, A History of the Ostrogoths (1984).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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