Story of the Goths - Henry Bradley

The Boyhood of Theoderic

Theoderic, the son of Theudemer, as we have already mentioned at the end of our fifth chapter, was born on the day when his uncle Walamer, king of the Ostrogoths, won the great victory that set his nation free from the dominions of the Huns. The home of the Ostrogothic nation was then (about A.D. 454) in the region which we call South-western Austria, and Theoderic's birthplace was somewhere not very far from Vienna. After the Ostrogoths had established their independence, they entered into an alliance with the eastern emperor Marcian, who agreed to pay them a large sum of money every year to enable them to defend their kingdom and furnish men when required for the service of the empire.

While Marcian lived the treaty seems to have been observed on both sides. The next emperor, Leo of Thrace, owed his position to the favour of the "Patrician" Aspar, a barbarian who had at Constantinople the same rank and the same influence that Rikimer had at Rome; and Aspar caused the yearly subsidy to be taken away from Walamer and given to another Gothic chieftain, a relative of his own, Theoderic Strabo, the son of Triarius. Who this man was we do not certainly know, but possibly the body of Goths whom he commanded may have been descendants of those who sixty years before had been defeated with Gaina in Thrace. We shall have frequently to speak of him in the following chapters, and in order to distinguish him from the other Theoderic, we shall always give him his Latin name.

King Walamer tried all peaceable means to induce the emperor Leo to restore him his yearly pay, but when he found that his representations were of no avail he led his army into Illyria, and soon made the Romans feel that it was much better to have him for a friend than for an enemy. In the year 462 the treaty was renewed. The emperor agreed to make Walamer a regular payment of three hundred pounds weight of gold every year, besides paying the arrears that had already been incurred. In return the Ostrogoths undertook to guard the borders of the empire, and the little Theoderic, then eight years old, was sent to Constantinople as a hostage to ensure fulfillment of their part of the bargain. His father was not very willing to let him go, but king Walamer persuaded him to consent urging the great advantage which it would be for the boy, who would one day be king of the Ostrogoths, to have received an education in the imperial palace.

The young Gothic prince soon became a great favourite with the emperor. He remained ten years at Constantinople, and seems to have been brought up just like the son of a Roman of high rank. The most celebrated teachers in the capital were secured for his education, and although no doubt he was more distinguished for success in athletic exercises than in book-learning, we need not believe the common story that when he became king of Italy he was unable to write, and had to make his official signature with the help of a gold stencil-plate. His residence in Constantinople certainly taught him to appreciate the advantages of civilized ways of life, and inspired him with a desire to impart those advantages to his own people.

When Theoderic was eighteen years old, he was allowed to return home, receiving on his departure many splendid presents from the emperor and his court. During his period of exile, king Walamer had been killed in a battle against the Scirians, and Theudemer had become king in his stead. It was hard work for the Ostrogoth kingdom to maintain itself against the attacks of the surrounding peoples. On one side it was assailed by the Gepids and Sarmatians, on another side by the Alamans, Sueves, and Rugians; and the remnant of the Huns had not given up trying to recover their lost dominion. When Theoderic returned home, he found that his father was away fighting the Alamans in the northwest, while the opposite extremity of the kingdom was threatened by a Sarmatian king named Babai, who had captured the Roman fortress of Singidunum (now Belgrade).

The young prince soon showed that his education at Constantinople had included some lessons in the art of war. Without waiting for his father's permission, he collected a band of six thousand men, and attacked Babai on his own ground. Singidunum was taken; the Sarmatian king was killed, and his family and his treasure carried off in triumph to the Ostrogoth capital. In spite of his friendly relations with the emperor Leo, Theoderic did not give back Singidunum to the Romans. Perhaps indeed they never asked for it, for the rulers at Constantinople were kept too busy with their home troubles to think much about the outlying parts of the empire, and Theodoric had at any rate relieved them of one dangerous enemy.

But the limits of Theudemer's kingdom were too narrow for the numbers of the people, and the continual conflicts with the border tribes left them little opportunity for tilling their fields; besides, after nearly a century of wandering about under the dominion of the Huns, they could not be very well fitted to settle down peacefully as farmers. When the Ostrogoths found themselves in danger of famine, they begged their king to lead them forth to war no matter against what enemy, if only they might have the chance of supporting themselves by plunder.

The king could not refuse his people's demand. The army was divided into two bodies, one led by Theudemer himself, the other by his brother Widumer, and it was decided that they should attack severally, the eastern and the western Roman Empire. In the presence of the assembled people the two chiefs solemnly cast lots to determine the direction in which each of them should march.

The lot so fell out that Widumer led his division of the people to Italy. It was in the short reign of Glycerius, and that emperor—it was almost the only official act of his that we know of, except his abdication induced the invaders, by the gift of a large sum of money, to go away into Gaul, where they united themselves with the Visigoth subjects of Euric.

The great mass of the Ostrogoth nation, however, followed their king into the region between the Danube and the Balkan mountains, which had so often, in years gone by, had the misfortune to be ravaged by Gothic invaders. The city of Naissus and several others fell into their hands, and the Romans of Constantinople were so alarmed by their successes that they were glad to purchase peace. The Ostrogoths were invited to settle in Macedonia, and received large gifts of land and money. Amongst the cities which were abandoned to them was Pella, famous as the birthplace of Alexander the Great.

Just after the conclusion of this treaty (in the year 474) Theudemer died, and his son Theoderic, at the age of twenty years, began his long and glorious reign as king of the Ostrogoths.