Famous Men of the Middle Ages/Theodoric the Ostrogoth
The Ostrogoths, or East Goths, who had settled in Southern Russia, at length pushed southward and westward to the mouth of the Danube.
They were continually invading countries belonging to the Romans and their warlike raids were dreaded by the emperors of the Eastern Roman Empire, who lived at Constantinople. One emperor gave them land and money, and thus stopped their invasions for a time.
The most famous of the Ostrogoth kings was Theodoric (The-od’-or-ic) the Great. He was the son of Theodemir (The-od’-e-mir), who was also a king of the Ostrogoths. When Theodoric was eight years old he was sent to Constantinople to be held as a hostage by Leo, the Emperor of the East. In former times, when kings made treaties with one another, it was customary for one to give to the other a pledge or security that he would fulfill the conditions of the treaty. The pledge usually given was some important person or persons, perhaps the king’s son or a number of his chief men. Persons so given as a security were called hostages. When Theodoric was a boy he was given as a hostage for his father’s good faith in carrying out a treaty with the Emperor and was sent to Constantinople to live. Here the youth was well treated by Leo. He was educated with great care and trained in all the exercises of war.
Theodemir died in 475, and then Theodoric returned to his own country and became king of the Ostrogoths. At this time he was eighteen years of age. He was handsome and brave and people loved him, for in those days a man who was tall and strong and brave was liked by everybody.
For some years after he became king Theodoric had frequent wars with other Gothic kings and also with the Roman Emperor Zeno (Ze’-no). He was nearly always successful in battle, and at last Zeno began to think it would be better to try to make friends with him. So he gave Theodoric some rich lands and made him commander of the Imperial Guard of Constantinople.
But the Emperor soon became tired of having the Ostrogoth king at his court, and to get rid of him he agreed that Theodoric should go with his army to Italy, and take that country from Odoacer (O-do-a’-cer). Theodoric was delighted at the proposal and began at once to make his preparations.
Odoacer was at that time king of Italy. Before he became king he had been a general in the army of Romulus Augustulus, the Western Roman Emperor. The soldiers of the army were not satisfied with their pay, and when they asked for more they did not get it. Then they drove Romulus Augustulus from the throne, and chose Odoacer to succeed him. But Odoacer would not take the name of emperor. He was called the “patrician” of Italy, and he ruled the country well.
Theodoric started for Italy, not only with a great army, but with all the people of his country. He meant to take Italy and be its king and settle in it with all his Ostrogoths. When he set out he had with him two hundred and fifty thousand persons—men, women, and children—with a great number of horses and wagons to carry them and their things. He had also an army of sixty thousand brave soldiers.
It was a long and weary journey from the shores of the Black Sea overland to the foot of the Alps Mountains and across the Alps into Italy. Here and there on the way they met savage tribes that tried to stop them, but Theodoric defeated the savages and took a great many of them prisoners. He made these prisoners, women as well as men, help carry the baggage and do other work.
The journey took months, but at last the Ostrogoths reached the top of the Alps. Then they could see, stretched out before them, the beautiful land of Italy. They were all delighted. They shouted and danced with joy, and Theodoric cried out:
“There is the country which shall be our home. Let us march on. It certainly shall be ours.”
Then they passed quickly down, and soon they were in Italy. Odoacer had heard of their coming and he got ready an army to drive them away. Theodoric also got his fighting men ready. The two armies met, and there was a great battle near the town of Aquileia. Odoacer was defeated. Then he tried to get Theodoric to leave Italy by offering him a large sum of money.
“I will give you,” said he, “thousands of pounds of gold and silver if you agree to go back to your own country.”
But Theodoric would not go. He said he had as good a right to be king of Italy as Odoacer, and he would remain and conquer the country and be its king. Soon after there was another battle, near Verona, and Odoacer was again defeated.
Theodoric came very near being killed in battle. He was saved only by the courage of his mother. She was in his camp, and at one time she saw a number of the Ostrogoths running away from that part of the battle-field where her son was fighting, thus leaving him without support. The mother rushed forward and stopped the fleeing men. She made them feel that it was a shame for them to desert their leader, and they at once returned to the field and fought beside their king until the battle was won.
After the battle of Verona, Odoacer went with his army to the city of Ravenna, and remained there for some time. Theodoric followed with his Ostrogoths and tried to take the city, but there was a very strong wall around it, and the Ostrogoths could not capture it. Although Theodoric was not able to take Ravenna, he did not remain idle. He marched off to other parts of the country, and took possession of towns and districts wherever he went.
After a while Odoacer got together a better army than he had before, and made another effort to defeat Theodoric. But he again failed. Theodoric defeated him in another great battle, which was fought on the banks of the River Adda. After this battle Odoacer again fled to Ravenna. Theodoric followed again and laid siege to the city. This time his army surrounded it and kept provisions from being sent in, and at last, when there was no food in the city for the soldiers or the people to eat, Odoacer had to surrender.
A treaty was then made between the two kings and both agreed that they should rule together over Italy, each to have equal power. But a few days afterwards Theodoric murdered Odoacer while sitting at a banquet, and then made himself the sole king of Italy. He divided one-third of the land of the country among his own followers. So the Ostrogoths settled in Italy, and Ostrogoths, Romans, and Visigoths were governed by Theodoric as one people.
Theodoric died at the age of seventy-one after ruling Italy for thirty-three years.