Story of the Goths - Henry Bradley

Theoderic and His Foreign Neighbours

The more Italy prospered under Theoderic's wise and kindly rule, the more she became a tempting prize to the ambition of foreign kings. Theoderic knew this well; and he knew besides that the military strength of his kingdom was after all only small. The Ostrogothic army was far inferior in numbers to that of the Franks alone; and if it should happen that the kings of Europe should discover his weakness, and should band themselves together for an united attack upon the kingdom, there was little hope that he would be able to resist them by force of arms. It would have been of no avail for him to labour for the well-being of his subjects, if a foreign conqueror were to overrun the land, and bring to ruin the fabric of order and prosperity which he had raised. And if even if he could have been sure of vanquishing every foe that came against him in the field, he knew that the success of his noble plans was only possible so long as he could ensure the continuance of peace. Famous warrior though he had been in earlier days, no visions of military glory blinded his perception of what was his kingdom's one overwhelming need.

The great aim of Theoderic's foreign policy was therefore to attach all the Teutonic kings to himself by ties of friendship, and to make them look up to him, as a superior, with whom it was unwise to quarrel. He connected his family by marriage with nearly every royal house in Europe. His sister was given in marriage "to Thrasamund, king of the Vandals, and his niece to the Thuringian king, Ermanfrid. One of his daughters became the wife of Alaric of Toulouse, and another was married to Sigismund, the heir, and afterwards the successor of Gundobad, king of the Burgunds. The mother of these princesses, who does not seem to have been regarded as Theoderic's lawful wife, was dead, and he married Audafleda, the sister of Clovis.

It may be mentioned here that Audafleda had only one child, a daughter named Amalaswintha. The idea of hereditary succession to the throne was now beginning to be much more fully recognized among the Teutonic peoples than it had been anciently, and Amalaswintha was therefore regarded as heiress of the kingdom. When Amalaswintha grew up to womanhood, the question who should be her husband was a very important one, for it practically involved the succession to the kingdom. If her father had bestowed her on a prince of any other royal house, the Ostrogoths would have felt that they were sold into the hands of a foreign nation; and if he had chosen one of his own generals, or some Roman noble, he would have excited jealousies that would very likely have proved dangerous. However, Theoderic found a way out of the difficulty that seems to have satisfied every one. At the court of the Visigoth king there was an Amaling prince named Eutharic the great-grandson of that King Thorismund, after whose death the throne of the Ostrogoth had remained vacant for forty years, until their Hunnish masters allowed them to choose a king once more. Now according to the new-fashioned principle of inheritance, this Eutharic had a better right to be king than Theoderic himself, and when the latter died there would very likely be a party ready to support his claim. So Theoderic prudently invited this prince into Italy, and by marrying him to Amalaswintha united the two branches of the Amaling stock. Eutharic was entrusted with important offices in the kingdom, and he seems to have been a man of some vigour and capacity for government. His liberality and magnificence won him many friends among the Romans, though the Catholic writers say he was a bigoted Arian, and not at all disposed to follow his father-in-law's policy of toleration. However, Eutharic died a few years before Theoderic, leaving a son named Athalaric, who while yet an infant was proclaimed king of Italy.

It was Theoderic's wish that the Teutonic peoples of Europe should form a sort of league, bound together by the brotherhood of race, and by the family connections of their kings. The Ostrogoths of course were to be at the head of the league, and enlightened by the traditions of Roman statesmanship which they inherited as possessors of the Western empire, were to lead the kindred peoples along the path of civilization. Like all Theoderic's schemes, this magnificent plan could only be worked by a man of genius. But while the man of genius lived it was wonderfully successful. The kings of the other Teutonic peoples—Franks, Visigoths, Vandals, and the rest—looked up with respect to the sovereign of Rome; they sought his mediation in their quarrels, and allowed him to write to them in the tone of a superior. If they did not always follow the counsels which he gave, they at least received them with abundant professions of deference and gratitude.

But notwithstanding Theoderic's love of peace, the annals of his reign include two great foreign wars—one with Constantinople, the other with the Franks—which together occupied about five years.

The war with the Eastern empire began in this way. Theoderic had been endeavouring to secure his north-eastern frontier, which, as he knew from the success of his own invasion, was the weakest point of his kingdom. In order to make himself safe against any possible designs on the part of the emperor, he cultivated the friendship of the petty chiefs who ruled in the neighbourhood of the old dividing line between the two empires. Amongst these was a certain Mundo the Hun, a descendant, it was said, of Attila. He was a sort of brigand captain, who had assumed the title of king somewhere in the district now known as Servia. The Gepids, who were still inhabiting the neighbourhood of the river Save, refused Theoderic's offers of alliance, and made an attack upon his territories. In the year 504 Theoderic sent an army against the Gepids, under a commander named Pitzia, who soon captured their chief fortress of Sirmium, and compelled their king Thrasaric to acknowledge himself Theoderic's vassal. Just at the same time, the emperor Anastasius, having heard that Mundo had been committing depredations on the neighbouring lands of the empire, sent against him his general Sabinianus. The imperial troops, assisted by the Bulgars—this famous nation is now for the first time mentioned in history had almost succeeded in compelling Mundo to surrender, when Pitzia appeared in defence of his master's ally, and inflicted on the emperor's general a crushing defeat. Amongst the Goths who specially distinguished themselves in this campaign was a young officer named Thulwin, who afterwards became one of Theoderic's closest friends.

By way of revenge for this discomfiture, Anastasius caused his fleet to ravage the south of Italy. Theoderic was at first unprepared to defend himself against this attack, but he soon succeeded in forming a naval force which compelled Anastasius to leave him unmolested. After the year 508 the peace between Anastasius and Theoderic was not again broken, and under the succeeding emperor, Justin, the relations between Constantinople and Ravenna were still more friendly.

Before Theoderic had done with this quarrel, he found himself drawn into another, the consequences of which were of much greater importance. This time his adversary was the king of the Franks.

The rapidly growing power of Clovis, and his evident unscrupulousness and ambition, had long been regarded by Theoderic with well-founded alarm. In the year 496 Clovis had gained Ľa decisive victory over the Alamans, the German nation from whom in modern French all Germans have received the name of Allemands. Theoderic sent a letter to the conqueror, offering him his congratulations, but earnestly entreating him to deal mercifully with the vanquished. Although Clovis might make a show of receiving these exhortations respectfully, he paid little attention to them in practice, and Theoderic granted to the persecuted Alamans a new home in the northern part of his own dominions—in Rhaetia, or what is now known as Southern Bavaria. Clovis pursued his career of conquest; in a few years he had subdued the Burgunds, and was threatening to bring the combined armies of Franks and Burgunds to the subjugation of the Visigoths.

Theoderic laboured earnestly to prevent the outbreak of war between Clovis and Alaric. To the former he wrote "as a father and as a friend," exhorting him not to engage in a fratricidal conflict the result of which was uncertain, and which could bring him no true glory; and he added that if Clovis declared war he should consider the act as an insult to himself. To Alaric, on the other hand, he laid stress on the danger of rushing unprepared into the struggle, and urged him to make every honourable concession, and not to draw the sword until the efforts which he himself was making to bring Clovis to reason should have proved unavailing.

But it was all in vain that Theoderic exerted his powers of persuasion. The Frankish king was bent on war. Alaric, indeed, was only too willing to yield, but he soon saw that no concession would save him. We have already related the sad story of the war of the year 507—how the Visigothic king was compelled by his generals to risk a battle without waiting for Theoderic's promised aid, and how the result was the death of Alaric and the conquest of his Gaulish dominions by the Franks.

It was the war with Anastasius that prevented Theoderic from intervening in time to save Alaric from ruin. As soon as peace was concluded with the emperor, in June, 508, an Ostrogothic army, led by the Count Ibba, Theoderic's principal general, entered Southern Gaul. Before very long Ibba had gained a decisive victory over the Franks and Burgunds, and in the following year Clovis was glad to make a treaty of peace, in which he acknowledged the infant Amalaric (the son of Alaric) as sovereign, not only of Spain, but of a considerable tract of country in the southeast of Gaul, including the great cities of Arles and Narbonne. The greater part of Provence, east of the Rhone, was added by Theoderic to his own dominions.

Theoderic now assumed the government of the Visigothic kingdom, as the guardian of his infant grandson. An illegitimate half-brother of Amalaric endeavoured to make himself king, but after a struggle of about a year he was defeated and put to death. Theoderic committed the management of the Spanish dominions to one of his generals, named Theudis, who however collected a native army, and became so powerful that his master was reluctantly obliged to allow him practically to assume the position of a tributary king. Still, this extension of his empire carried with it an increase of respect amongst foreign sovereigns, and his nominal lordship over Spain was maintained without cost.

In the year 523 Theoderic made another addition to, the territory of his kingdom. It was a military conquest, and yet it was won without striking a blow. This apparently contradictory statement is easily explained. Sigismund, king of the Burgunds, prompted by the malice of his second wife, had murdered his own son, the grandson of Theoderic. Thulwin, the general of Theoderic, marched to Lyons with an Ostrogothic army, to inflict punishment on the guilty king. When he arrived, however, Sigismund had already been captured by the sons of Clovis and put to death; and the new king, Godemar, who was carrying on the war with the Franks, eagerly offered to resign to Theoderic the southern half of his kingdom as the price of peace. Thulwin therefore returned in triumph, having secured all the substantial fruits of a victory without the cost of a single life.

The vessel which conveyed Thulwin home was wrecked by a fearful storm in full view of the port where Theoderic was waiting to welcome his friend. Thulwin, taking his only child in his arms, sprang into a boat, and rowed for the shore. The spectators of his struggles thought it almost impossible that the boat could live, and the old king's anguish was so great that he could with difficulty be restrained from plunging into the sea in a hopeless attempt at rescue. The crew of the ship all perished in their efforts to reach the land. But Thulwin's strength and skill enabled him to gain the shore in safety, and Theoderic ran to embrace him, shedding tears of joy for his escape. It was perhaps the last happy moment that the old king enjoyed in his life.