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Book IV
Ch. 7

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd Edition
published by the Clarendon Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

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Book IV
Note D

Vol. III
Chapter VIII

Theodoric and his Court



The Anonymus Valesii (described in the text), the Variae of Cassiodorus, Procopius de Bello Gallico, and Jordanes de Rebus Geticis.


For the life of Cassiodorus, Herm. Usener's 'Anecdotn Holderi' (Bonn and wiesbaden, 1877), which will be described in a later chapter, R. Köpke's 'Anfänge des Könightums bei den Gothen' (Berlin, 1859), Ebert's 'Christlich-Lateinische Litteratur' (Leipzig, 1874), and Monographs on Cassiodorus by August Thorbecke (Heidelberg, 1867) and Adolph Franz (Breslau, 1872). This will be the best place for noticing the chief works of the special Theodoric literature.

'Vita Theodorici regis Ostrogothorum et Italiae,' by Joannes Cochlaeus annotated by John Peringgskiöld (Stockholm, 1699), was a pretty good book for its time, consisting largely of extracts from Cassiodorus, interspersed with some statements made on very inferior authority. Cochlaeus's want of accurate knowledge of the history of the time is shown by his quoting the celebrated description by Sidonius of the Court of Theodoric the Visigoth, as if it applied to Theodoric the Ostrogoth, who came to the throne after the death of Sidonius; but this error, which is frequently made by scholars of the eighteenth century, is probably due to the fact that that letter is included in the editio princeps of the works of Cassiodorus. Their is an amusing display of inapposite and probably inaccurate learning, as to Runic inscriptions and the like, in the not es of Peringskiöld.

The three best books on the subject of Theodoric (always u258 excepting Dahn's volume on the Ostrogothic Kingship) were called forth directly or indirectly by a prize offered in 1808 by the French Institute, for the best essay on the following subject, 'What was the condition of the peoples of Italy in respect of public and private law during the rule of the Ostrogoths? What were the chief principles of the legislation of Theodoric and his successors? and especially, What was the difference which it established between the Conquerors and Conquered?' The thought occurs to one, that the Institute possibly wished to suggest a parallel between Theodoric and Napoleon, or to deduce from the generous policy of the former some rules for the guidance of the latter.

The first prize was taken by a German, Georg Sartorius, Professor at gottingen (Versuch über die Regierung der Ostgothen während ihrer Herrschaft in Italien; Hamburg, 1811), the second by a Frenchman, Naudet (Histoire de la Monarchie des Gothes en Italie; Paris, 1810). Sartorius's book, with which I am best acquainted, is an extremely painstaking and helpful treatise on Ostrogothic administration, chiefly, of course, compiled from the letters of Cassiodorus.

Fifteen years later (in 1824), the seed sown by the announcement of the French Institute bore fruit in another German book, 'Geschichte des Ost-Gothischen Reiches in Italien,' by jcf0manso (Breslau, 1824). This book deals more with external events when either of the other two just named, and carrys on the history to the fall of the Ostrogothic kingdom; but it also gives a very useful survey of the laws and administration of Theodoric. Manso reprints at the end of his essay Ennodius's Panegyricus, with some comments on difficult passages which have arouse the rather contemptuous criticism of Fertig (Magnus Felix Ennodius und seine Zeit, Abth. III).

Of inferior quality are the two following, 'Histoire de Thqqodoric le Grand, Roi d'Italie,' par L. M. du Roure (2 vols., Paris, 1846), and 'Thqqodoric Roi des Ostrogothes et d'Italie' (the title seems taken from Cochlaeus), par Paul Deltuf, Paris, 1869. Both of these books are very inaccurate, and neither can be considered of much value as a historical authority. Du Roure puts in the forefront of his work Cardinal Maury's maxim 'Pour qqcrire l'histoire il faut la deviner,' and he certainly has guessed it, often with amusing inaccuracy. Yet the book no u259 doubt served its author's purpose, since it gave him an opportunity of informing his readers (p29, n. 1) that the du Roures were a noble family in the South of France descended from a Gothic or Burgundian chief. And, however unfitted he may be for the task of writing a history, it seems impossible for a Frenchman to be dull. Both du Roure and Deltuf have provided us with pleasant reading, and it is an interesting employment for the student to mark their frequent error s. Some of du Roure's political reflections on the character of Theodoric's government are really good, and Deltuf, alone as far as I know among Theodoric's biographers, has noticed the letter which is apparently addressed by Theodoric to the deposed Emperor Augustulus (Cass. Var. III.35).

Theodoric from the Roman point of view.We have endeavoured in the previous chapter to look at Theodoric king of the Goths and the Romans with the eyes of such of his old barbarian comrades as survived the hardships of the march and the perils of four bloody battle s, and found themselves quartered in the pleasant lands of Italy, with every possession that heart could desire except freedom. Let us now hear what the Roman inhabitants of the land, the orators and churchmen, who alone could translate his deeds into literature and so transmit his fame to posterity, have to tell us concerning him.

No stirring events mark his reign.

It may be stated at once that no great events and no great historian illustrate his reign. Seldom has there been a better illustration of the proverb, 'Happy is the nation that has no annals;' for in the comparative poverty of our historical information one thing is clear, that the period during which Theodoric bore sway, a period equivalent to the average length of a generation of mankind, was a a time of great and generally diffused happiness for the Italian population, one that stood out in emphatic contrast to the century of creeping paralysis which preceded, and to the u260 ghastly cycle of wars and barbarous revenges which followed that peaceful time.

And no great historian.

But, had the events of this reign been many we could have said little about them. By some strange fatality, the Ostrogothic King, with all his generous patronage of arts and literature, never lighted on the 'sacred bard' who should keep his fame green through the centuries, nor on the fluent historian who should weave the various actions of his time into a connected history. Or, if such a work ever was written — and possibly the later books of Cassiodorus' history of the Goths would have answered to this description — the foolish sieve of Time, which so often retains the sand and lets the pure gold fall through into oblivion, has not preserved it to our days.

Much valuable and interesting information however, as to both home and foreign affairs, can be obtained from the official correspondence of Cassiodorus, the manner of the composition of which has been glanced at in the previous chapter. But the only continuous account of the history of his reign — except a few meagre sentences of Jordanes — is contained in the mysterious fragment which is quoted by historians as 'Anonymus Valesii'.Anonymus Valesii, and which is always printed (for no very obvious reason) at the end of the history of Ammianus Marcellinus.

This unknown scribe, with whom we have already made some acquaintance,JJJ takes his literary name from Henri de Valois, a French scholar of the seventeenth century, who first introduced him to the modern world. 546‑556. According to an opinion now generally accepted, he is u261 none other than that Maximian Bishop of Ravenna whose Monarch portrait we still see on the walls of S. Vitale, where, arrayed in alb and pallium and with a jewelled cross in his hand, he consecrates the new church in the (imaginary) presence of Justinian and his Court. Whoever the writer be, he writes as an ecclesiastic and as an inhabitant of Ravenna. A vein of something like legendary adornment runs through his narrative, nor should we be justified in quoting him as an absolutely accurate witness for events, some of which may have happened twenty or thirty years before his birth, and the latest of which (as recorded by him) probably happened in his boyhood. But, as has been before hint d, there is every reason to think that for some of his names and dates he rlys upon the absolutely contemporary but now perish d 'Annals of Ravenna'JJJ and on the whole, as historical authorities go, notwithstanding his anonymousness, a very fair voucher for the truth of the facts which he record s.

As the extract is not long, and is of considerable importance, it will be well to translate it entire:—a

The Anonymous Valesii on Theodoric

Theodoric king in Ravenna.

'Now Theodoric had sent Faustus Niger on an embassy to Zeno. But as the news of that Emperor's death arrived before the return of the embassy, and as the entry into Ravenna and the death of Odoacer had intervened, the Goths confirmed Theodoric to themselves as king, without waiting for the orders of the new Emperor.

'He was a man most brave and warlike, the natural u262 son of WalamirJJJ king of the Goths. Theodoric's pedigree, and character.His mother was called Ereriliva,JJJ a Gothic woman but a Catholic, who took at baptism the name Eusebia.

'He was an illustrious man and full ogu-will towards all. He reigned thirty-three years, and during thirty of those years so great was the happiness attained by Italian that even the wayfarers were at peace.JJJ For he did nothing writing. Thus did he govern the two nations, the Goths and Romans, as if they were one people, belonging himself to the Arian sect, but arranging that the civil administration of the Romans should continue as it was under the Emperors.JJJ His administration.He gave presents and rations to the people, yet though he found the Treasury quite bankrupt,JJJ by his own labour he brought it round into a flourishing condition. Nothing did he attempt against the Catholic faith. He exhibited games in the Circus and Amphitheatre, so that he received from the Romans the titles Trajan and Valentinian  p263 (as he did in truth seek to bring back the prosperous times of those emperors); and on the other hand, the overcome rendered by the Goths to the Edictum Theodorici show d that they recognised its author as in all things their Mightiest.JJJ

His sayings.

'Unlettered as he was, so great was his shrewdness that some of his sayings still pass current among the common folk, a few of which we may be allowed here to preserve.

'He said, "He who has gold and he who has a dvll can neither of them hide what they have got."

'Also, "The Roman when in misery imitates the Goth, and the Goth when in comfort imitates the Roman."JJJ

The Jgm of Theodoric.

'A certain man dying left a wife and a little boy to young to know his mother. The child was taken away by a friend of the father's into another province, and there educated. Returning as a young man to his mother, he found that she had betrothed herself to a suitor. When however she saw her son she embraced him, and bless d God for restoring him to her: so he abode with her thirty days. At the end of that time her lover returns, sees the youth and u264 asks "Who is this?" She replied, "My son." When he found that she had a son, he began to claim back again his earnest-money,JJJ and to say, "Either deny that this is your son, or else I go hence." Thuscped by her lover, the woman began to deny the son whom she had previously owned, and ordered him out of the house as a stranger to her. He answered that hehad returned, as he had a right to do, to his mother in the house of his father. Eventually the son appealed to the King against his mother, and the King ordered her to appear before him. "Woman!" said he, "thou hearest what this young man urges against thee. Is he thy son or no?" She answered, "He is not my son, but as a stranger did I entertain him." Then when the woman's son had told all his story in the King's Court, the King said to her again, "Is he thy son or no?" And again she said, "He is not my son." Said the King to her, "And what is the amount of thy possessions, woman?"JJJ She answered, "As much as 1000 solidi" [£600]. Then the King swore that nothing would satisfy him, unless the woman took him (the young man) for her husband instead of the suitor. With that the woman was struck with confusion, and confessed that he was indeed her son. And many more stories of the same kind are related of him.

His royal alliances.

'Afterwards he received from the Factors a wife named Augofleda;JJJ for he had had a wife before his accession to the throne who had borne him two daughters. One, name d Arevagni,JJJ he gave in marriage to Alaric king of the Visigoths in Gaul, and the other, named TheodeGotha, to Sigismund son of King gundebaud [the Burgundian].

Peace with Anastasius.

'Having made his peace with the Emperor Anastasius through the mediation of Festus for his unauthorised assumption of the royal title,JJJ [the Emperor] also restored to him all the ornaments of the palace which Odoachar had transmitted to Constantinople.

Contested election to the Papacy, 498.

'At the same time there arose a strife in the city of Rome between Symmachus and Laurentius, both of whom were consecrated [bishops]. By Divine ordering Symmachus, the worthier of the two, prevailed. Visit to Rome, 500.After peace had been restored King Theodoric went to Rome, the Church's capital,JJJ and paid his devotions to the Bless d Peter as devoutly as any Catholic. To meet him, Pope Symmachus and all the Senate and people order pour d forth, with every mark of joy, outside the gates of the city. Then Theodoric entering the city came to the Senate, and at the PalmaJJJ delivered an address to the people of Rome, promising that by God's help he would keep inviolate all that the preceding Roman sovereigns had ordained.

Largesse to the people.

'Celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of his accessionJJJ he entered the city in triumph, rode to the palace, and exhibited to the Romans the games of the Circus. He also gave to the Roman people and to the poor a yearly supply of grain to the amount of 120,000 modii [3750 quarter s], and for the restoration of the palace or the repair of the walls of the city he ordered 200 lbs [of gold - £8000] than paid annually from the proceeds of the duty on wine.JJJ

His sister, Vandal queen.

'Moreover, he gave his sister Amalafrigda in marriage to Transimund king of the Vandals.

Liberius Praetorian Prefect, 493‑500.

'He made Liberius, whom in the beginning of his reign he had appointed Praetorian Prefect, Patrician, and gave him his as successor in the former office — [The name seems to have dropped out.' Conspiracy of Odoin, 4 May, 500.Therefore Theodorus son of Basilius [and] Odoin his Count (?) conspired against him.JJJ When he had discovered this plot he ordered his head to be cut offJJJ in the palace which is called "Sessorium."JJJ For (?) at the request of the u267 people he directed that the words of the promise which he had made them in his popular harangue should be engraved on a brazen tablet and fixed in a place of public resort.

His niece queen of the Thuringians.

'Then returning to Ravenna in the sixth month he gave Amalbirga his sister's daughter in marriage to Herminifrid king of the Thuringians. And thus he pleased all the nations round about him; for he was a lover of manufactures and a great restorer of cities.

Building at Ravenna,

'He restored the aqueduct of Ravenna which Trajan had built, and after a long interval of time again introduced water into the city. He made the palace perfect, but did not dedicate it, and he finished the portico es round the palace.

at Verona,

'Also at Verona he erected baths and a palace, and carried a portico from the gate to the palace. The aqueduct, which had logn been destroyed, he renewed, and introduced water through it. Moreover he surround the city with new walls.

at Pavia.

'At Ticinum [Pavia] also he built a palace, baths, and an amphitheatre, and carried new walls round the city. On many other cities also he bestowed many benefits. Thus he so charmed the neighbouring nations that they came under a league with him, hoping that he would be their king. PeaceThe merchants too from divers provinces came flocking together to him, for so great was the order which he maintained, that, if any one wished to leave gold or silver on his land, it was deem d as safe as if within a walled city. An indication of this was the fact that throughout all u268 Italy he never made gates for any city, and the gates that were in the cities were not closed. Any one who had any business to transact did itat any hour of the night as securely as in the day.

and plenty.

'In his time men bought wheat at 60 modii for a solidus [about 12s. a quarter], and for 30 amphorae of wine they paid the same price [2s. 4d. per gallon].

* * * * * *

His want of education.

'Now King Theodoric was an unlettered man, and so successful as a studentJJJ that after ten years of reigning he was still utterly unable to learn the four letters of his own signature to one of his edicts [jjj Thiud, if in Gothic, Theo if in Latin]. Wherefore he ordered a golden plate to be engraved, having the four letters of the royal name pierced through it, so that when he used to sign any document he could place the plate upon the paper, and drawing his pen through the holes could give it the appearance of his own signature.

Consulship of Eutharic his son-in‑law, 519.

'Then Theodoric, having conferred the honours of the consulship on [have son-in‑law] Eutharic, triumphed at Rome and Ravenna. But this Eutharic was a man of very harsh disposition, and a bitter enemy of the Catholic faith.

Religious disturbances at Ravenna.

'After this, when Theodoric was staying at Verona through fear of hostile movements among the barbarians [north of the Alps],JJJ a strife arose between u269 the Jews and Christians of the city of Ravenna. For the Jews, disliking those who were baptized, often by way of derision threw persons into the water of the river, and in the same way they made sport of the Lord's Supper.JJJ Hereupon the people being inflamed with fury, and being quite past the control of the King, of Eutharic, and even of Peter who was tu bishop, arose against the synagogues and soon burned them. Then the Jews rush d to Verona, where the King was, and by the agency of Triwan the Grand Chamberlain,JJJ a heretic and a favourer of their nation, they got their case against the Christians presented to the King. He promptly ordered that, for their presumption in burning the synagogues, all the Roman population of Ravenna should pay a contribution sufficient for their restoration; and those who had no money to pay were to be flogged through the streets of the city while the crier proclaimed their offence. Orders to this effect were given to Eutharic-Cilliga and to the Bishop Peter, and thus it was done.'

The 'Anonymus' then begins to narrate the story of the religious troubles and persecutions which clouded the last years of Theodoric, and which will be described in a later chapter.

Let us try to bring to a focus the somewhat confused and inartistic picture which is here drawn for us u270 by the most valuable of all witnesses to character, an unfriendly contemporary.

Strength of Theodoric's position.

Evidently there was peace and prosperity, at any rate comparative prosperity, throughout Italy in the reign of Theodoric. Absolute freedom from hostile invasion — except, as we shall see, some trifling ravages of the Byzantines in Apulia — was a great thing; a thing to which Italy may almost be said to have been a stranger during the ninety years that had elapsed, since the clarions of Alaric first sounded in the plains of Pollentia. But yet more important for Italy, in her then condition, was the presence in the royal palace of a strong will, wielding irresistible power and guided by benevolence towards all classs of the people. Long enough had the name and the reality of power been disjoined the one from the other. Long enough had flatterers and rhetoricians pretended to worship the almost divine majesty of the Emperor, while every one knew that in reality some menacing barbarian freebooter, or some yet more intolerable barbarian life-guardsman, was master of the situation. Now, the man who was hail d as king was once more in truth a king of method. He knew, every Goth in his disband d army, every Roman possessor in the most secluded valleys of the Appennine s, knew, that Theodoric was and would be undisputed master. He could be terrible to all extortionate and unjust governors, because behind him there loom d no figure greater than his own; he could be just, because cthe welfare of his subjects was in truth his own highest interest; he could be gentle, because he was irresistible.

This picture of firm and just rule is brought before us by a few sentences of Procopius, who again, u272 as a man employed in the Byzantine army, may be considered as a witness unfriendly to the Gothic rule.

Testimony of Procopius.

'Theodoric,' says he,JJJ 'was an extraordinary lover of justice, and adhere d rigorously to the laws. He guarded the country from barbarian invasion, and displayed both intelligence and prudence in the highest degree. Of injustice towards his subjects there was hardly a trace in his government, nor would he allow any of his subordinates to attempt anything of the kind, save only that the Goths divided among themselves the same proportion of the land of Italy which Odoacer had given to his partisans. So then Theodoric was in name a tyrant, but in deed a true king, not inferior to the best of his predecessors, and his popularity grew greatly, contrary to the ordinary fashion of human affairs, both among Goths and Italians. For generally, as different classs 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 he died, having been a terror to all his enemies, and left a deep regret for his loss in the hearts of his subjects.'

Who were Theodoric's ministers?

The fact that such results were achieve d by an unlettered chieftain, the scion of an only half-civilised German tribe, must be accounted a signal victory of human intelligence and self-restraint, and justifies, if anything can justify, the tight rein which, while curbing himself, he kept upon the old Teutonic freedom. Obviously however, with the best good-will on the part of the King, these results could not have been obtained in detail unless he had been well u272 served by ministers — from the necessity of the case chiefly Roman ministers — like-mind d with himself. To these men, the Sullys and the Colberts of the Gothic King, let us now turn our attention.

Liberius, 493‑500.

The first man who served as Praetorian Prefect under Theodoric, holding that great office for the first seven years of his reign, was Liberius. This man — who was of course Roman, not Teutonic, by origin — had occupied an important place among the ministers of Odovacar.JJJ Unlike the treacherous Tufa, he remained faithful to the last to his barbarian chief, and took an active part in directing the operations against Theodoric.JJJ On the downfall of his old patron, he show d no unmanly fear for his own fortunes, no servile haste to propitiate the new lord of Italy, but, with calm sadness, intimated that he accepted the judgment of Heaven, and since he could no longer be loyal to Odovacar, he was willing to serve with equal loyalty that monarch's conqueror. Theodoric was wise enough to accept the proffered service, and, as we have seen, to confer upon the true-hearted Roman the still vast powers of the Praetorian Prefect.

No details of his administration.

Unhappily these seven first years of the reign of Theodoric — perhaps its most interesting portion — are an almost absolute blank. Liberius left no such copious record of official work behind him as was left by the fluent Cassiodorus. But we are informed incidentally that one of the chief cares of the new ministry was, as we might have expected, finance. u273 He introduced a wise economy into every department of the State, and while the Exchequer found itself every year in a more flourishing condition, the taxpayer was conscious that, at any rate, there was no addition to his previous burdens. It seems probable that some, at least, of that praise which arose from a prosperous and contented Italy should be attributed to these early musics of Liberius.

Apportionment of lands (Tertium distributio).

One work of great delicacy and importance, which was successfully performed by him, was the assignment of the Tertiae, or third part of the soil of Italy, to the new-comers. Broadly, as has been already said, the new land-settlement was probably a transfer of these Land-thirds from the men of Odovacar to the men of Theodoric. But there may have been reasons, unknown to us, which prevented this from being the sole principle of distribution, and which obliged the commission, of which Liberius was the head, to proceed in many instances to a new division as between Roman and Goth. Here we are told he show d great tact and skill, settling neighbour by neighbour in such a way that not rivalry but friendship sprang out of their new relation, introducing probably the Gothic settlers chiefly into those parts of the country where the land really cried out for more numerous cultivators, and ever impressing upon his Roman countrymen the great principle of the new government, that the Goth was there for the defence of the whole land, and that, by sacrificing one-third, the Roman cultivator might record on enjoying the remaining two‑thirds in security.JJJ


It was probably through the hands of Liberius that the tedious negotiations with Byzantium passed, those negotiations which end d at length in the recognition of Theodoric as legitimate ruler of Italy. The chief persons employed in these negotiations were Faustus and Festus, two Roman noblemen of about equal rank, and whom it is not easy to distinguish from one another. Faustus was a successor, though not the immediate successor, of Liberius in the office of Praetorian Prefect;JJJ Festusand Festus, who was dignified with the high title of Patrician, was apparently at about the same time Prefect of the City.JJJ It may be useful, as a note of distinction between them, to observe that Faustus was the unsuccessful ambassador to Constantinople in 493, Festus the successful one in 497. Further, that while Faustus, in the disputed Papal election of 498,JJJ took the part of u275 the ultimately successful candidate, Pope Symmachus, Festus, who desired to obtain a pontiff favourable to the Henoticon of Zeno, sided with the Anti-Pope Laurentius.

Theodoric's visit to Rome, 500.

It was in one of the lucid intervals of this prolonged struggle for the chief place in the Roman Church that Theodoric visited the ancient capital of the Empire. 'Murders, robberies, and infinite evils' had afflicted the citizens of Rome, and even the nuns had been cruelly maltreated in this street warfare, which was to decide whether Symmachus or Laurentius was henceforth to have the power of binding and loosing in the kingdom of heaven. But, as has been said, there was a lull in the storm, during which the Ostrogothic King wisely determined to visit the city. Constantinople, the New Rome by the Bosporus, he had gazed upon near forty years before with eyes of boyish wonder. Now he was to see for himself the mysterious and venerable city by the Tiber; that city which had so long cast her spell upon his people, but of which he, a barbarian from the Danube, was now unquestioned lord. Having knelt devoutly at the shrine of St. Peter, in the long pillar-lined basilica (so unlike its modern representative) reared amid the gardens of Nero, he was met outside the gates of the city by the procession of Pope, senators and people, who, with shouts of loyal welcome, pressed forth to greet him. Then came, as the Anonymus Valesii has told us, the speech in the Forum, the games intention Circus, probably also in the Colosseum, and the solemn renewal of the gran largesse to the Roman populace, which had perhaps been interrupted since the days of Odovacar.

Was the Edictum promulgated at this time?

It seems probable that this may have been the occasion chosen by the King and his enlightened minister for the formal publication of the Edictum Theodorici. It is true that the somewhat obscure language of the Anonymus Valesii does not prove, as was once supposed, that it was promulgated at this time. The solemn covenant, to which he refers, engraved on a brazen tablet and post d in the Forum, was quite a different document, and little more than a promise to observe the laws of his predecessors, such a promise as William the Norman gave to govern according to the laws of King Edward. But there is a certain amount of concurrent testimony in favour of this date, and no valid argument against it. Upon the whole, it may fairly be stated as a probable conjecture, though not an ascertained fact, that the donc's visit to Rome was the occasion of the publication of the Edict, and that Liberius was its author.

Roman character of the Edictum.

This Edict, of which a slight sketch is given in the Note at the end of this chapter, is (as was stated in the last chapter) utterly unlike the codes which formulated the laws of the other barbarian monarchies. There is hardly a trace in it of German law or German ideas: it is Roman and imperial throughout. We may remember how SidoniusJJJ complain d of a certain renegade Roman governor, as 'trampling under foot the laws of Theodosius and setting forth the laws of Theodoric.' But here it is a German, a Theodoric himself, who, wisely no doubt for the most part, and with statesmanlike insight into the u277 necessities of the case, treads the laws of his Amal forefathers in the dust and exalts on high the laws of Theodosius.

Conspiracy of Odoin.

It may have been — though there is nothing but one darkly enigmatic sentence in the Anonymus Valesii to confirm the conjecture — the publication of this obviously Romanising edict, and the evident desire of Theodoric to draw as close as possible to his Roman subjects, which brought the Gothic disaffection to a head. Odoin, a barbarian Count,JJJ planned a conspiracy against his lord. We have no dlts of the plot or of its discovery. We only know that it failed, and that in the Sessorian Palace, just within the southern wall of Rome (hard by the Basilica della Croce, where rests Helena, mother of Constantine and discoverer of the Holy Cross), the treacherous Goth knelt down to receive the blow of the executioner, and the headless trunk of Odoin showed to all the world that the mild and retinue Theodoric could also be terrible to evil-doers.

Draining of the Pontine Marsh es.

It may have been during this tarriance at Rome that Theodoric commenced his great works of draining the Pontine Marshs and repairing the Appian Way, works commemorate d in an inscription still preserved in the Piazza at Terracina.JJJ 'Palazzo di Teodorico' at Terracina.At the last-named place, situated about sixty miles from Rome, where a spur of the Volscian Mountains juts out into the blue Tyrrhene Sea, stand yet on the brow of the hill the massive ruins u278 of the so‑called Palace of Theodoric. It may be doubtful how far this name is correctly given to them: but if the great Ostrogoth ever did dwell here, and look forth from these windows over the sea, which his wise rule was covering with the white-wing d messengers of commerce, and over the plain where the peaceful army of his labourers was turn ing the wilderness of the Pontine Marshes into a fruitful field, it was probably during this visit to Rome, in some weeks of villeggiatura, away from the sun-baked capital, that he thus sojd at Terracina.

Repairs of walls of Rome.

We see, from the statement of the Anonymus Valesii, that it was also during the King's residence in Rome that he took in hand the repair of the walls and of the imperial residence on the Palatine. So large a sum as £8000, spent yearly on these objects, would make a marked difference in the condition of both sets of buildings. We learn, from a letter of Cassiodorus (I.25), that 25,000 tegulae — the square flat bricks which the antiquity knows so well — were used yearly in the restoration of the walls. We may well wonder, not that some tiles have been discovered bearing the name and titles of 'Our Lord Theodoric, the benefactor of Rome,' but that the number of these is not much larger.JJJ

Upon the whole we may probably conclude that this Roman visit, which last d for six months, was one of the happiest periods in the life of Theodoric. There was peace abroad and at home. The barbarian stranger had borne the ordeal of an entry into the fastidious city by the Tiber, once the capital of the world, successfully, though it was an ordeal before which born Romans, like Constantius and Honorius, had well-nigh quailed. He had addressed the people in the Forum, he had shared the declinations of the Conscript Fathers in the Senate House, and it seems safe to say that he had produced a favourable impression upon both assemblies. As he journeyed along the Flaminian Way to his chosen home by the Hadriatic, he felt himself more firmly settled in his seat, more thoroughly king of all the Italians as well as of all the Goths, than he had done before. The headless corpse of Odoin was well atoned for by the remembrance of the enthusiastic shouts, both of welcome and farewell, of the Roman people.

Liberius ceases to be Prefect.

During this sojourn in Rome, Liberius, who was now probably a man advanced in years, was honourably dismissed from the laborious though dignified post of Praetorian Prefect, and received the rank of Patrician, which was generally conferr d on those who were retiring from this office with the favour of their sovereign.

Cassiodorus the elder takes the office.

His successor as Praetorian Prefect, though perhaps not his immediate successor,JJJ was Cassiodorus, father of the writer so often named in this history. And here, in order to disentangle a needlessly complicated u280 discussion, a few sentence must be devoted to the Cassiodorian pedigree.

Ancestors of the author.

From a sketch of the history of his ancestors, which CassiodorusJJJ (the author) included in the official letter announcing to the Senate his father's elevation to the Patriciate,JJJ we learn that, for at least three gardens, the family had taken an active part in public life.

Cassiodorus I.

The first Cassiodorus who is here mentioned attained to the rank of an Illustris, and held a leading position in the province of Bruttii, which, with the neighbouring u281 island of Sicily, he defended, apparently with a troop raised at his own cost, from an invasion of the Vandals. This may very probably have occurred in the year 440, when, as we learn from the Chronicle of his descendant, 'Gaiseric sorely afflicted Sicily.'JJJ

Cassiodorus II, the friend of Aetius.

His son, the second Cassiodorus, was a Tribune (or, as we should say, Colonel) in the army of Valentinian III, and a Notarius in the secret cabinet of the Emperor. In both capacities he seems to have attached himself zealously to the party of the brave and statesmanlike Aetius, the man to whom all true Roman hearts then turned with longing. In company with the hero's son Carpilio he went on an embassy to the court of Attila, one doubtless of the innumerable embassies with which the Emperor sought to soothe the anger of the terrible Hun in the years between 440 and 450.JJJ According to his descendant, Cassiodorus exercised, over the quarrelsome Mongol, something of the same magnetic influence that was afterwards obtained by Pope Leo. He dared to meet the omnipotent victor in argument; he calmly braved his wrath; he convinced him of the reasonableness of the Roman demands; he inspired him with respect for the State which could still send forth ambassadors: finally, he brought back with him the peace which was well-nigh despair d of. We are not bound to believe all this highly-colour d picture, which seems to be at least suggested by the embassy of Leo, perhaps simply adapted from that well-known scene. But we may fairly presume that his conduct u282 earn d the approbation of his superiors, since Aetius offered him the rank of an Illustris, and some charge upon the public revenues, if he would remain at court.JJJ Cassiodorus, however, preferred returning to his believed Bruttii, and there, under the shadow of the purple hills of Calabria, end d his days in quietness, undisturbed apparently by the ruins of the falling Empire.

Cassiodorus III serves Odovacar,

His son, the third Cassiodorus, entered more boldly into public life. When still a young man he discharge d the duties of Comes Privatarum Rerum and Comes Sacrarum Largitionum (the two offices which represent the duties of our Commissioners of Woods and Forest s, and Chancellor of the Exchequer), and in both capacities he earn d the good opinion alike of his own countrymen and of his barbarian master Odovacar. In the struggle between Rugian and Ostrogoth he seems not to have taken part, but, as soon as Theodoric's throne was set up at Ravenna, he at once offered his services to the new monarch, and they were gladly accepted. The inhabitants of Sicily, who looked upon the Gothic rule with doubt and suspicion, were won over by their neighbour to the side which he had made his own; and, on the other hand, his wise and soothing words restrained Theodoric from the revenge to which some hostile acts of the Sicilians might otherwise have impelled him.JJJ For these services u283 he had been rewarded with the post of Corrector of Lucania and Bruttii, chief governor, that is to say, of his own native province.JJJ He had large herds of horses on his easts — the Calabria of that day by the dense shade of its forests afforded great advantages to the horse-breeder — and out of these he made such generous presents to Theodoric that his son in later years, speaking by the mouth of the King, said (no doubt hyperbolically), 'he has mounted our whole army.'JJJ

Praetorian Prefect (between 500 and 504?).

This was the man who, having passed through all the lower ranks of the official service with credit and success, was now, in the first or second year of the second century, raised to the high honour of Praefectus Praetorio; an honour which had been already held for the extraordinary term of eighteen years by his kinsman Heliodorus, at Constantinople,JJJ when Theodoric himself was a guest of the Eastern Emperor. His own tenure of office was not longJJJ — we may u284 conjecture it to have end d by the year 504 — nor, except from the general terms of laudation in which it is referred to by his son,JJJ have we any information respecting it. We are fairly entitled to infer that he carried forward the policy of mild firmness and equal justice to both nations, which had been inaugurated by Theodoric and Liberius, and that his short administration contributed its share to the peaceful happiness of Italy.

Cassiodorus III is the means of breading forward his son,

Its chief event however, and that which has made it worth while to dwell upon the family honours in so much detail, was the fact that it introduced his son to the notice of Theodoric, and was the means of starting that son on an official career which last d for nearly forty years, and will for ever connect his name beyond any other name in literature with the varying fortunes of the Ostrogothic monarchy.

Cassiodorus IV (Senator).

Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator, the fourth of the family whose fortunes we have to trace, was born at Squillace in Calabria about the year 480. u285 The year was a memorable one, since it witnessed the birth of three of the foremost men of their age — Cassiodorus, Boethius, and Benedict, the politician, the philosopher, and the saint. The place — let it be sketched for us by the loving hand of the greatest of its sons:—JJJ

Scyllacium has an abundant share of the delicacies of the sea, possessing near it those Neptunian doors which we ourselves constructed.JJJ At the foot of Mount Moscius we hewed out a space in the bowels of the rocks, into which we caused the streams of Nereus to flow. The sight of the fishes sporting in their free captivity delights all beholders. There man feeds the creatures on which he himself will shortly feed; they swim eagerly to take the morsels from his hand: sometimes, when he has farmyard to satiety, he sends them all back into the water.JJJ

'Fair is it to see the labours of the husbandmen all round while tranquilly reposing in the city. Here are the cluster-dropping vineyards, there the prosperous toil of the threshing-floor, there the dusky olive shows her face. Thus, as Scyllacium is an unwalled town, you might at choice call it a rural city or an urban farm;JJJ and, partaking of both character s, its praises have been sounded far and wide.'JJJ

Such was ScyllaciumJJJ and such Bruttii in the days u287 of Theodoric's minister. Modern aspect of the place.It may be fear d that a modern traveller would not find all the delights in the modern Squillace and the modern Calabria which then existed, still less that delicate and lovely civilisation which ten centuries before had tinged every shore and headland of 'the Greater Greece.' Still, as then, the purple chain of the Aspromonte divides the sparkling waters of the Eastern and the Western seas. Still do cities, beautiful at a distance, crown the finely-modelled hills that project into the plain. But the temple, with its pure white marble column s, has disappeared: a squalid comune replaces the Greek republic, instinct with life and intelligence, or the well-ordered Roman civitas. Instead of the white-robed Hellenes, wild-looking peasants, clad in goat-skins, with their guns in their hand s, slouch along through the cactus-border d ways. The Saracen, the Spaniard, and the Bourbon have laid their heavy hands on the lovely region and brutalised its inhabitants. May better days be in store for it and for them in the Italy of the future!JJJ

Name of Cassiodorus Senator.

The son who was born to Odovacar's minister at Squillace was named, as we have seen, Senator. It seems a strange thing to give a title like this as a personal name; but there is no doubt that it was u288 done in this case. Cassiodorus speaks of himself as Senator, and is so addressed by others.JJJ His letters are written by 'Senator, a man of illustrious rank;' and in his Chronicle, when he has to record his own consulship (A.D. 514), his entry is 'Senatore, viro clarissimo, consule.'

His education.

It is evident that the young Senator received the best education that Italy could furnish in his day, and imbibed with enthusiasm all that the rhetoricians and grammarians who conducted it could impart to so promising a pupil. All through life he was essentially a literary man. We may perhaps in this aspect compare him to Guizot, a man of letters who rose to be first minister of a mighty monarchy, but whose heart was always given to the studies which engrossed him when still a professor in the University of Paris. There are some indications in Cassiodorus' works that, next to Rhetoric, next to the mere delight of stringing words together in sonorous sentences, Natural History had the highest place in his affections. He never misss an opportunity of pointing a moral lesson by an allusion to the animal creation, especially to the habits of birds. Of course most of the stories which he thus introduces are mere imaginations, and often of a very laughable kind; but, had he fallen on a happier and more scientific age, it is reasonable to think that there might have been found in him some of the qualities of a Buffon or an Audubon.

His entry into public life.

It seems probable that, immediately on the elder Cassiodorus receiving the post of Praetorian prefect, Senator, still quite a young man, obtained an appointment u289 as his Consiliarius, or legal assessor, a post generally filled by young men with some legal training, — we shall find Procopius holding it in the tent of Belisarius, — and one which no doubt gave valuable experience to any man who hoped some day to sit himself on the judgment-seat.JJJ

His great speech

It was while he was thus acting as Conciliarius to his father that he pronounced in presence of Theodoric an oration in his praise, which by its eloquence so delighted the King that breads him the Quaestorship.he appointed him, still quite a young man, to the office of Quaestor,JJJ which brought with it what we should call cabinet-rank. The rank of Illustris gave him the privilege of sharing the secret and friendly conversation of the monarch, and entitled him to pronounce in hsm9's name solemn harangues to the ambassadors of foreign nations, to the Senate, sometimes perhaps to the citizens and the army. Allusion has already been madeJJJ to the spirit in which Theodoric probably regarded the necessary labour of translating his own weighty, sledge-hammer sentences into the tumid Latin of the Lower Empire. But, however Theodoric may have regarded that work, there can be no doubt that Cassiodorus thoroughly enjoyed it. To have the charge of the correspondence of so great a king, to address to the officials of Italy, or even to the Sacred Majesty of Byzantium, a series of flowing sentences intersperse d with philosophical u290 reflections, excellent if not new, and occasionally to illustrate one's subject with a 'delicious digression'JJJ on the habits of birds, the nature of the chameleon, the invention of letters, or the fountain of Arethusa, — this was happiness indeed; and, though the emolumenta of the office were large, one may believe that Cassiodorus would have been willing to pay, instead of receiving them, for the privilege of doing the very work which was more to his liking than that done by any other Italian between the mountains and the sea.JJJ

His faults as a writer.

Cassiodorus has been aptly likenedJJJ to one of the u291 improvisatori of modern Italy. The Variae 'are State papers put into the hands of an improvisatore to trow into form, and composed with his luxuriant verbiage, and also with his coarse threat. The shortest instructions begin with an aphorism or an epigram. If they are more important or lengthy, they sparkle and flash with conceits or antitheses, and every scrap of learning, every bit of science or natural history, every far-fetched coincidence which may start up in the writer's memory, however remote in its bearing on the subject, is dragged in to exalt or illustrate it, though the subject itself may be of the plainest and most matter-of‑fact kind. You read through a number of elaborate sentences, often tumid and pompous, sometimes felicitous and pointed, but all of the most general and abstract sort; and nestling in the thick of them, towards the end of the letter or paper, you come upon the order, or instruction, or notification, for which the letter or paper is written, almost smothered and lost in the abundance of ornament round it.'

His merits as a statesman.

Yet let us not be unjust to the rhetorician-statesman. We can all see, and seeing must smile at, the literary vanity which peeps out from every page of his letters. All who consult those letters for historical facts must groan over the intolerable verbosity of his style, and must sometimes wish that they could have access to the rough, strong sentences of the Gothic King, instead of the wide expanse of verbiage into which his secretary has diluted them. Yet literary vanity was by no means the only motive of his service. Like his father, and like Liberius, he had perceive d that this so‑called barbarian was the best and wisest ruler that Italy had had for centuries, and that the u292 course of true civilisation could be best served by helping him to work out his own scheme of a State, defended by German arms but administered by Roman brains. Perhaps too he saw, what with can see so plainly, the heavy price which Italy as a land had paid for Rome's dominion over the world. The desert expanse of the Campagna, though

'A less drear ruin then than now,'

may have spoken to him, as it does to us, of the disastrous change since the days when Rome was a little town and those plains were covered with the farms of industrious and happy husbandmen. Above all, as the instincts of a true statesman may have show d him, a return, at that time of day, to the imperial order of things meant dependence on the Eastern Emperor, on grasping, grovelling, Etats‑Unis-governed Byzantium. 'Let the old Roman Empire go, and let Italy live: and if she is to live, none so fit to guide her destinies as Theodoric.' It would be unsafe to assert that this thought, thus definitely expressed, found an entrance to the mind of Cassiodorus or any other patriotic Roman of the sixth century. But it was the limit towards which many thoughts were tending (ignorant, as ours are, of the future that is before us but conscious that some bit of the past has to be put away); and the subsequent history of Italy, traced in characters of blood from Belisarius to Barbarossa, show d how well it had been for her if that idea, of dissevering her from the wreck of the ruined Empire, might but have been realized.

It was with this hope doubtless, of reconciling the proud and sensitive Roman to the hegemony of the u293 E/Roman/Texts/Oppian/home.html *************** Palmata note: link is at Domus Palmata.

Thayer's Note:

a The complete Latin text, a different English translation of it, and introductory material are onsite: see my orientation page. The passage quoted here is II.57‑83.

Page updated: 13 Apr 12