Short URL for this page:
https://bit.ly/2ed4HODIHI16


[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail:
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]
Italiano

[Link to a series of help pages]
Help
[Link to the next level up]
Up
[Link to my homepage]
Home
previous:

[image ALT: link to previous chapter]
Book IV
Chapter 15

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

by
Thomas Hodgkin


2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London
1896

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

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

next:

[image ALT: link to next chapter]
Book IV
Note I

Book 4 (continued)

Vol. III
p627
Chapter XVI

The Errors of Amalasuntha

Authorities

Sources: —

Procopius, de Bello Gotthico, I.2‑4; Jordanes, de Rebus Geticis, cap. 59; and Cassiodorus, Variarum lib. X. The last-mentioned authority, like a severely edited Blue-book, tells us as little as possible of the real course of events. Even the few meagre sentences of Jordanes give more information as to the accession of Theodahad and the death of Amalasuntha than the sixteen folio pages of the letters of Cassiodorus.

Connection between the Vandal and the Gothic wars of Justinian. The imperial conquest of Africa foreboded at no very distant date trouble for the Gothic lords of Italy. Truly had John of Cappadocia advised the Emperor that he could not expect long to retain the lands which owned Carthage as their capital while the intervening lands of Italy and Sicily were in alien, possibly hostile, hands. Already the grievance of the unsurrendered fortress of Lilybaeum was an indication of the coming estrangement between the two hitherto friendly monarchies; a hint to any reflecting Gothic statesman that his nation had not done wisely in so immensely facilitating the imperial triumph over its old Vandal ally.

Embassy from Justinian to Amalasuntha. Ambassadors were speedily sent by Justinian to  p628 bring his grievances — which related not to Lilybaeum alone — before the Court of Ravenna: but these ambassadors were also charged with private messages to the Ostrogothic princess more important than their formal demand for the surrender of the Sicilian fortress. These private messages related to the increasingly strained relations between Amalasuntha and her own subjects, relations which had already caused her, a Gothic ruler, to utter strange cries for help to the Roman Emperor.

Difficulties of Amalasuntha's position. The daughter of Theodoric was a woman endowed with many splendid gifts, but she was placed in a difficult, one is inclined to say in a hopelessly false, position, and the very splendour of her gifts only made her failure to fill that position more notorious. The mere fact that she was a woman made it almost impossible that she should command the hearty loyalty of her Gothic subjects. That which John Knox inveighed against as 'the monstrous regiment of a woman,' though common among Celtic nationalities,1 was almost unknown to the Teutons. Tacitus, near the close of the 'Germania,' speaks of the remote tribe of the Sitones as differing from other German races in that they were governed by a woman: 'so far had they degenerated not only from liberty but even from slavery.'2 That peculiar development of the Teutonic spirit of honour to women which we call chivalry, and which was to make the stalwart  p629 knights of the Middle Ages proud to serve under a Lady Paramount, not counsellors of Elizabeth support her throne with an enthusiastic loyalty of devotion such as few of the kings her predecessors had experienced, — all this was yet in the far future. For the present the Gothic warriors felt themselves distinctly degraded by having to obey the commands of a woman, though nominally only a Regent, and though she was the mother of their King.

Her intellectual accomplish­ments. It probably availed little against this disparaging view of a woman ruler, that she was possessed of great intellectual accomplishments, that she should speak Latin and Greek as fluently as the ambassadors who came to discourse with her in either tongue, and yet had not lost the full use of the rich Gothic vocabulary of her ancestors.3 The sensibility to culture of the vanquished lords of Italy, which Amalasuntha showed in her friendships, in her speech, in her daily occupations, was all matter for distrust and suspicion to those of her Gothic countrymen who wished to stand fast by the old ways. Still this might have been borne with as a woman's whim; Her manner of educating Athalaric. but when they perceived that she was bringing up the King of the Goths, the descendant of all the Amal warriors, to the same studious habits, their dislike deepened into indignation. The great Theodoric had said,4 in his proclamation to the Goths, even when Cassiodorus held the pen, 'What is not learned in  p630 youth is unknown in riper years. Bring forth your young men and train them in martial discipline.' A young Amal hero should be learning (like the Persian lads of old) 'to ride and to draw the bow, and to speak the truth.' He should be out daily with the young nobles, his equals in age, practising every kind of manly exercise. Instead of this, the unhappy Athalaric had daily to visit the school of a grammarian, to learn what Priscian had just written about the eight parts of speech, or what Boethius (that traitor Boethius) had translated from the Greeks about the science of arithmetic. His only companions were three old men, of Gothic blood it is true, but whom the princess had selected because 'she perceived them to be more intelligent and reasonable than the rest of their countrymen:'5 a doubtful recommendation in the eyes of their more impetuous and younger fellow-nobles.

Remonstrances of the Goths. At length, a chance event brought matters to a crisis, and emancipated Athalaric from female rule. For some act of disobedience Amalasuntha flogged her royal son, who came forth from the bed‑chamber into the apartment of the men, sobbing bitterly. A Gothic king, flogged by a woman and crying over the chastisement; that was too much for the warriors to endure. They clustered together, and some voices were heard openly proclaiming the cruel calumny that Amalasuntha wished to kill her boy that she might marry a second husband, and with him lord it over both Goths and Italians. Soon a deputation, composed of men of such high rank that the princess could not refuse to listen to them, sought an interview  p631 with Amalasuntha. In a formal harangue the chief speaker represented that the young King's education was not being conducted in a way that was either suitable for himself or just towards his subjects. 'For letters,' said they, 'are very different from valour: and the teachings of aged men generally lead only to cowardice and meanness. A lad, therefore, who is one day to dare great deeds, and to win high renown, ought to be at once liberated from the fear of schoolmasters and to practise the use of arms. Theodoric, who was himself devoid of literature and yet so mighty a king, would never permit the children of the Gothic warriors to be sent to a grammarian's to study: for he always said "If they once learn to fear the tutor's strap, they will never look unblenching on sword and spear." Therefore, O Lady, let the pedagogues and the old courtiers take their leave, and give to your son suitable companions of his own age, who may stir him up to manly exercises, so that when he comes to man's estate he may know how to rule after the fashion of the barbarians.'

Amalasuntha's compliance. Amalasuntha turned pale with anger as she listened to this bold harangue: but, with all her gifts of oratory, she knew when to be silent and when to feign acquiescence in the dictates of a power that was too strong for her. Such a time was now come. She professed to listen to the counsels of the nobles with pleasure, and promised to comply with their request. Amalasuntha was relieved from his lessons and from his gray-headed companions, whose place was taken by a band of Gothic striplings. Possibly his mother, irritated at the overthrow of her schemes for his education, ceased to take any further interest in the formation of his character,  p632 and used no care in the selection of these young comrades. It is certain that Athalaric's training went at one rebound from the extreme of strictness to the extreme of laxity. We do not hear of the martial exercises in which he was to be practised but we do hear that his young companions soon initiated him into habits of intoxication and other forms of vice. His health, perhaps undermined by the too severe application which had been demanded of him as a child, soon began to give way under his unbridled licentiousness, and before he was sixteen years of age it was manifest to all, and even to Amalasuntha herself, that the young King of the Goths would never attain to man's estate.

Further movements of disaffection among the Goths. Meanwhile the movement of disaffection towards the princess, once begun, had not been stayed by her concessions. The old Gothic party were now in declared hostility to the Regent, and at length audaciously ordered her to quit the royal palace. Athalaric, who was now of an age at which he might have exerted some influence on public affairs, was aware of the painful position in which his mother was placed; but, mindful of her former severity and caring more for his vicious pleasures than for any thought of filial duty, he refused to take her part in any way, and rather seemed to take pleasure in showing how lightly he regarded her counsels. That little golden circlet which, since the world began, has sundered so many hearts bound together by the ties of natural affection, had fatally and finally severed this woman from her son.

Amalasuntha's harsh measures towards the Gothic leaders. Still the daughter of Theodoric did not quail before her enemies, though they were every day growing more clamorous, and every day her position as ruler in  p633 her son's name was growing weaker by his more evident hostility. She singled out the three nobles who were most eminent in the party opposed to her authority and ordered them to leave the court and betake themselves to separate places of abode as widely parted from one another as the length and breadth of Italy would allow. The historian unfortunately does not give us the names of these dismissed nobles, but we can hardly be wrong in supposing that if Tulum was alive he was one of them. The chief among the Gothic generals, a man who had only just passed the prime of life, and a kinsman by marriage of the family of the Amals, he must, if still living, have played an important part in all the discussions as to the education of the young King; and from what we know of his character we may infer that his influence would not be exerted on Amalasuntha's side.6

Negotiations with Justinian. The dismissed nobles kept up communications with one another and were now, almost in their own despite, converted into conspirators against the princess. Being informed of this she prepared to strike a bolder stroke. She sent messengers to Justinian to inquire if he would be willing to receive her in case of her departure from Italy. The Emperor promised her a warm, an eager welcome, and ordered that a palace at Dyrrhachium should be prepared for her reception. Removal of the national treasure. The royal treasure, amounting to the enormous sum of 40,000 pounds' weight of gold, more than £1,600,000 sterling, was placed on board a ship which was sent by the  p634 princess, under the charge of her trustiest adherents, to anchor in the harbour of Dyrrhachium. That she should have been able, in the precarious condition of her authority as Regent, thus to deal with what was really the national reserve of gold, shows how absolute was the power transmitted by Theodoric to his successors.

The murder of the three nobles. Having thus provided herself with a refuge in case of the failure of any of her plans, Amalasuntha gave secret orders to some of her Gothic courtiers, to seek out the three disgraced nobles in their various places of retirement and put them to death. There was no pretence of judicial process; it was but a triple murder committed under the shadow of the royal authority.

Temporary success of Amalasuntha. The plans of the unscrupulous princess succeeded better than they deserved. In each case the assassin's blow was fatal; and Amalasuntha, now deeming herself secure, ordered the treasure-ship back from Dyrrhachium, and no longer thought of fleeing across the Hadriatic. Such was the state of affairs when the ambassadors of Justinian arrived in Italy to discuss the question of Lilybaeum. An irreconcilable breach had been made between Amalasuntha and the patriotic party among the Goths. The son in whose name she exercised the regal authority was visibly sinking into a drunkard's grave. The nobles, perhaps startled by the sudden display of ruthless energy on the part of one whom they had despised both as a woman and as a pedant, were pausing to consider what step should next be taken, and waiting till the death of the nominal king should make the situation clearer, by  p635 compelling Amalasuntha to ask from the nation a formal sanction of her right to reign.

534. Embassy of Alexander. Ostensibly, the mission of the Senator Alexander, who now arrived at Ravenna on an embassy from Constantinople, was to set forth the various grievances which Justinian had sustained from the Goths. Complaints of Justinian. Lilybaeum, which had belonged to Gelimer, now by the fortune of war the slave of the Emperor, was clearly that Emperor's property, but was detained from him by Gothic officers. Ten Hunnish deserters from the army of Africa who had escaped to Campania had been received into the Gothic service by Uliaris,7 the commandant of the garrison of Naples. In some renewed border-wars with the Gepidae, the army of Sirmium had taken and sacked the city Gratiana, which was in the imperial province of Moesia, and with which they had no business to meddle. The letter brought by Alexander rehearsed all these grievances and concluded with a growl of menace: 'Pray consider what is the necessary end of proceedings such as these.' Amalasuntha's reply. Amalasuntha, or Cassiodorus under her dictation, prepared a suitable reply. She suggested that it was unfair in a great prince like Justinian to try to fasten a quarrel upon a boyish sovereign unversed in public affairs; and dwelt on the services which the Goths had performed to the Empire at the time of the Vandal expedition, by giving the troops a free market in Sicily and supplying the cavalry, who had really been the winners of the imperial victories, with the horses which were essential to their success. As for Lilybaeum, it was a mere rock of no pecuniary value,  p636 which had once belonged to the Goths and ought to belong to them again.

Real purport of Alexander's mission. This was apparently all that passed on this occasion between the Emperor and the Regent-mother. The real purport of the embassy was very different. In a secret interview Alexander enquired if Amalasuntha still purposed throwing herself on the protection of Justinian, Amalasuntha's offer. and received in return a formal proposal, made under the seal of absolute secrecy, to surrender the Gothic kingdom in Italy to the Emperor. Seldom has even diplomacy itself veiled a sharper contrast between the real and the apparent, than when this princess, in public proudly refusing to surrender one rocky promontory in Sicily, was in the secretum of the palace bargaining away, for a promise of personal safety, the whole of Sicily, Italy, and Illyricum to the stranger.

Ecclesiastical mission. But even below this intrigue lay another which was being carried on under cover of zeal for the welfare of the Church. With Alexander had started two ecclesiastics, Hypatius Bishop of Ephesus, and Demetrius Bishop of Philippi, who had been sent ostensibly to discuss some point of church doctrine8 with Pope John II. Their real mission was to enter into conversation on affairs of state with an important personage who was then in or near Rome, the heir presumptive of the Gothic crown, Theodoric's nephew, Theodahad.

Character of Theodahad. It has already been hinted9 that this man, the son of Amalafrida and the nearest male heir to Theodoric  p637 after Athalaric,10 was not by virtue of his own qualities an eligible candidate for the throne. On the contrary, he, like the bulk of the Merovingian kings, is an illustration of the way in which a degenerate Romanised Goth might unite the vices of the two contrasted nations and the virtues of neither. Greedy and cowardly, with a varnish of philosophic culture over the laziness and dullness of the barbarian, a student of Plato and a practitioner of every kind of low chicanery, fond of Latin literature, but with no trace of the old Roman valour, devoid of gratitude and destitute of honour; such was the man who would now in a very short time be the sole male representative of the great Amal dynasty. By the favour of his uncle he had received, probably from the confiscated estates of the friends of Odovacar, broad lands in the province of Tuscia, and was already by far the largest proprietor in that part of Italy. But to Theodahad, as Procopius satirically observes, 'to have neighbours of any kind seemed a sad misfortune.' His cupidity. The whole fair province of Tuscia, the broad valley of Arno in the north, the villages which lie within sight of cloudy Radicofani in the centre, the Campagna lands in the south beyond the Ciminian mount, extending within sight of the towers of Rome, all must be one vast latifundium belonging to the Gothic prince. While he was sitting in the portico of his palace, apparently immersed in the study of Plato or reading the lines in which Horace described himself as

'Happy enough with his one Sabine farm,'11

 p638  he was all the while scheming how, by a judicious mixture of fraud and force, to extrude some Gothic soldier or Roman provincial from the nearest 'Naboth's vineyard' that had not yet been grasped by his all‑compassing cupidity. Twice in his uncle's lifetime had he been sharply rebuked for these over-reaching practices. 'Avarice,' as Cassiodorus was commissioned to tell him, 'was a vulgar vice, which the kinsman of Theodoric, a man of the noble Amal blood, was especially bound to avoid.' If Theodahad should not at once yield to the king's mandate, a stout Saio was to be despatched to compel restitution to the rightful owners.12 Undeterred by the disgrace of having to listen to such reproofs as these, perhaps presuming on the minority of his young cousin and the weakness of a female reign, Theodahad had been of late years pursuing even more eagerly his course of chicanery and violence; and at the time which we have now reached a large deputation of the inhabitants of Tuscia was at the court of Ravenna declaring 'that Theodahad was oppressing all the inhabitants of that country, taking away their lands on no pretence, and was not only thus offending against private individuals, but was even trenching largely on the royal patrimonium.'13

Theodahad is desirous to treat with Justinian. The knowledge of his own unpopularity, and the estrangement which these acts had produced between himself and his royal relatives, gave to Theodahad a feeling of insecurity which was no doubt increased by the wonderful and unexpected victories of the Empire in Africa. The downfall of the Vandal throne probably gave to all persons connected with the new  p639 barbaric royalties a sense of the precariousness of their splendid positions; a presentiment that their power was but for a little time, and that soon the Roman Emperor would be again, what he had been for so many centuries, the unquestioned lord of civilised Europe. Whatever may have been the cause, when the ecclesiastical deputies from Constantinople, Hypatius and Demetrius, obtained their secret interview with Theodahad they found him willing, even eager, to enter into negotiations with their master. Let a large sum of money be paid down, and he would hand over the whole of Tuscia to the Emperor, and spend the remainder of his days as a courtier at Constantinople.

Embassy of Peter. When the ambassadors returned to make report of their mission, it might reasonably seem to Justinian that the whole kingdom of Italy was about to fall into his hands without toil or bloodshed, only by a little judicious expenditure of treasure. All that was needed appeared to be to continue the negotiations which had been commenced with Amalasuntha and Theodahad, to keep the two intrigues from being entangled with one another, and at the right moment to make bold and liberal drafts on the Count of the Sacred Largesses at Constantinople. For this purpose a rhetorician of Byzantium, named Peter, a Thessalonian by birth, and one of the ablest diplomats in the imperial service, was chosen. Peter, who had been Consul eighteen years before, was at this time in full middle life,14 a man of good diplomatic address,  p640 subtle, gentle, and persuasive. He knew, however, as was shown by his conduct of these negotiations, when to make felt the iron hand which at this time was always present within the velvet glove of Byzantine diplomacy.

Change in position of the parties before Peter's arrival. The appointment of Peter as ambassador, nominally to renew the demand for Lilybaeum, really to carry these secret negotiations to a successful issue, probably took place in the autumn of 534. When he arrived upon the scene some months later, he found that events had marched with terrible rapidity, and a totally different state of affairs awaited him from that which had been contemplated by the Emperor in his instructions.

Edict of restitution against Theodahad. In the first place, the enquiry into the acts of Theodahad demanded by his Tuscan neighbours had taken place. The prince had been found clearly guilty of the charges brought against him, and had been condemned to make restitution of all the lands that he had wrongfully appropriated either from private individuals or from the royal domain. Theodahad, smarting under the shame of this sentence and powerless henceforth to remove his neighbour's landmark, had become the bitter enemy of the Regent.

Death of Athalaric, 2 Oct. 534.15 Almost immediately after the termination of this affair came the event, so long looked for, yet so bewildering when it came, the death of the hapless young king Athalaric, in the eighteenth year of his  p641 age, worn out with drunkenness and debauchery. Increased difficulties in Amalasuntha's position. All the schemes of Amalasuntha were thus threatened with immediate overthrow. The success which had hitherto attended them was probably due to the fact that, so long as she could use the king's name, the whole army of functionaries who worked the machinery of the State, inherited from the Western Emperors, were at her service and ready to obey her bidding. But now, to get that name of royalty without which no Roman official was safe in obeying her orders, she must face her Gothic subjects, and at least go through the form of being freely chosen by them. So much, notwithstanding all the centralising and despotic tendencies of Theodoric's system, the instinct of a German nationality still required. Without this election, even her scheme of resigning the sceptre to Justinian could not be realised: and yet to obtain it she must face an assembly of those free Gothic warriors whom for the last eight years she had been persistently thwarting and humiliating; nay, she must see the clouded countenances of the relatives of those three nobles whom she had murdered, and whose death, according to the old Teutonic notions, still called for vengeance at the hands of their kinsmen.

She decides to offer a partnership in the kingdom to Theodahad. It must have been the pressure of necessities such as these that drove the princess to an act so extraordinary that Procopius could only account for it by the explanation, which is no explanation, that Amalasuntha was 'fated to perish.' She determined to share the throne with Theodahad, trusting to his sense of gratitude for this elevation to leave her still virtually sole sovereign. Sending for him, she assured him with a winning smile that she had long looked  p642 upon her son's early death as inevitable, and had felt that all the hopes of the house of Theodoric must be centred in him. Seeing, however, with regret that he was not popular either with the Goths or Italians, she had devoted herself to the task of putting him straight with his future subjects, in order that there might be no obstacle to his accession to the throne. This had been the object of the late judicial investigation; and, painful as the process might have been to himself, this result was now accomplished. She therefore now invited him to ascend the throne with her; but he must first bind himself by an awful oath that he would be satisfied with the name of kingship, and would leave her as much of the actual substance of power as she possessed at that moment.

Theodahad accepts the proposal. Theodahad listened, professed entire acquiescence in all that the Regent had done in the past, and promised that the sole direction of affairs should remain in her hands for the future. The scheme was then made public: some sort of assent was probably obtained from the Comitatus or from an armed assembly of the Goths; and Amalasuntha and Theodahad were hailed as joint sovereigns of the Goths and Romans in Italy.

Nature of the new arrangement. As to the main outlines of this transaction there can be no difference of view. Amalasuntha associated Theodahad with herself in the kingdom as a brother, not as a husband. The new King was already married, and the letters written for his wife Gudelina by Cassiodorus to the sovereigns of Byzantium give us the idea that she was a woman of eager and ambitious temperament, who possibly urged on her husband to labours and to crimes from which his more sluggish  p643 nature would have shrunk. A point as to which there may reasonably be some divergence of opinion is, how far the popular assent was needed, even in form, for the new bestowal of the crown. It may be observed that I have abstained from speaking of Amalasuntha as Queen before the death of her son; and my conjecture is that there was some formality of popular election after the death of Athalaric, in compliance with which his mother and her colleague ascended the throne. There is something to be said, however, for a more strictly monarchical view of the transaction, according to which Amalasuntha may have become Queen in her own right as heiress to her son, and then, by a mere exercise of her sovereign power, may have associated Theodahad with her in the kingdom.16

Letters announcing the accession of Amalasuntha and Theodahad. The facile pen of Cassiodorus was at once called into requisition to write the epistles which etiquette required from the new sovereigns. In two letters to Justinian, Amalasuntha and Theodahad announced the beginning of their joint reign, and recommended themselves to the favour of a sovereign the maxim of whose Empire had always been friendship with the Amals. In two letters to the Senate, the sister praised the noble birth, the patience and moderation, the prudence and the literary talent of her brother (not even the pen of Cassiodorus could write the words 'the courage of Theodahad'): and the brother exalted the serene wisdom of his sister, who, after causing him to make acquaintance with her justice,17 had weighed him in the  p644 scale of her accurate judgment and found him worthy to share her throne. As the Divine Wisdom has allotted to man two hands, two ears, two eyes, so was the Gothic kingdom to be thenceforward administered by two sovereigns, who, partaking of all one another's counsels, would rule the land in perfect harmony.

Theodahad's ingratitude. Words, vain words, with no trace of reality behind them! We seem to perceive the influence of Cassiodorus on the mind of his pupil, in Amalasuntha's over-estimate of the power of mere words, not only to veil unpleasant facts, but to smooth them away out of existence, and by the magic of a well-turned period to breathe noble instincts into a base and greedy soul. The Queen soon found that in trusting to the generosity or the gratitude of Theodahad she was leaning on a broken reed. In fairness to her partner it must be confessed that she had brought the affairs of her kingdom into such a state of almost hopeless bewilderment, that only a very brave, zealous, and loyal colleague could have extricated her from her difficulties: and Theodahad was none of these. The kinsmen of the three murdered nobles, already a powerful party, and including some of the noblest of the Goths, now found themselves reinforced by one who bore the title of King. They, or he — it is not easy to assign the exact share of responsibility for these deeds — broke out into open violence and slew some of the chief adherents of the Queen. Imprisonment of Amalasuntha, 30 April, 535.18 Amalasuntha herself was hurried away from Ravenna to one of the two lonely islands which rise out of the waters of the lake of  p645 Bolsena. The lake of Bolsena. This lake, named far from the ancient Etruscan city of Vulsinii, is now the picture of desolation. Malaria rules upon its shores, and scarcely a sign of human habitation appears upon them outside of the villages of Bolsena at its head, Montefiascone and Marta at its foot. The handiwork of Nature is beautiful, the blue lake lying under its forest of oak, and the hills to the north of it stretching up to dark, volcanic, Monte Amiata on the horizon: but man has done nothing to improve it. A strange awe seizes one as one looks down upon the white rocks of the little islet of Marta, now entirely uninhabited, but with a few steps cut in the rock which are said to have led to the prison of Amalasuntha. One seems to see the boat rowed by Theodahad's servants bearing the hapless Queen who had so lately ruled from Sicily to the Danube: one feels how her weary eyes rested on the hills around, the Tuscan hills, all owned by the hateful traitor Theodahad: and one knows that her clear and manly intelligence must have at once perceived that she was brought to this desolate rock only to die.

Theodahad's embassy to Constantinople. For the moment Theodahad spared the life of his victim. It perhaps suited him to have a hostage for his own safety in the negotiations which he was about to recommence with Byzantium. He despatched an embassy, at the head of which were two Senators, Liberius and Opilio (the latter of whom had been Consul eleven years before with the Emperor Justin), to report the imprisonment of Amalasuntha, to deprecate the Emperor's anger, and to promise that she should receive no injury. An accusation against her  p646 that she had plotted against her partner's life was made the excuse for the violence used towards her, and was apparently supported by a letter of confession and self-reproach extorted from the helpless Queen.

Their report to Justinian. When the ambassadors arrived at Constantinople, all, with one exception, described the recent deeds of Theodahad in such terms as they deserved, Liberius especially, who was a man of high and honourable character, vindicating the conduct of Amalasuntha from all blame. Opilio alone (who was probably father of Cyprian the accuser of Boethius) insisted that reasons of state had justified all that had been done by Theodahad.

Journey of Peter. Meanwhile the ambassador Peter, travelling in the opposite direction, had been gradually learning the events which changed the whole object of his journey. Soon after starting, he met the ambassadors who told of Athalaric's death and the elevation of Theodahad. When he came in sight of the Hadriatic he met Liberius and Opilio, from whom he heard of the Queen's imprisonment. He prudently went no further westward, but communicated the tidings to the Emperor and waited for fresh orders. When those orders arrived they were, to hand to the Queen a letter in which Justinian assured her that he would exert himself to the utmost for her safety. Peter was directed to make no secret of this letter, but to exhibit it to Theodahad and all the Gothic nobles, among whom the Emperor calculated that it would sow dissensions which might further his schemes of conquest.

Before Peter arrived at Ravenna the tragedy of Amalasuntha's fate was ended. The party of the  p647 three nobles found it an easy task to work upon Theodahad's fears and to persuade him that there was no safety for him or for them so long as the Queen lived. Death of Amalasuntha, May (?), 535. He consented to their murderous counsels; they repaired to Vulsinii, crossed the lake, climbed the white cliffs, and murdered the unhappy daughter of Theodoric in her bath. Theodahad loudly protested that the deed was done without his knowledge or approval, but as he loaded the murderers with honours and rewards, none heeded his denial.

Peter declares a truceless war against Theodahad. Peter at once sought an audience with Theodahad and informed him that, after the deed of wickedness which had been done, there must be war without truce or treaty between him and the Emperor.19 Contrary, however, to the custom usual both in ancient and modern times, he seems after this declaration to have remained still at the Gothic Court, evidently intending to see what diplomatic advantage he might yet obtain from the fears of the guilty King.20

 p648  Cause of Amalasuntha's misfortunes. So perished Amalasuntha, Queen of the Goths and Romans, a woman worthy not only of a less tragic death, but of a more successful life, had she only possessed in addition to her rare intellectual gifts, the humbler qualities of tact, insight into the minds of others, and some power of sympathising even with the unreasonable prejudices of those around her. She led a pure life, had a high and queenly spirit, and was earnest in the pursuit of wisdom, seeming as it were a kind of Gothic Minerva, sprung from the Gothic Jove. But half of her splendid qualities might have been wisely exchanged for the gift of reading the thoughts of the rough barbarians who guarded her throne, and above all, for sufficient remembrance of what is in the heart of a child, and sufficient imagination of what is in the heart of a boy, to keep her from the alternate errors of over-strictness and over-laxity by which she ruined the health and character of her son Athalaric.


The Author's Notes:

1 The cases of Cartismandua and Boadicea in Britain seem to justify this assertion.

2 'Cetera similes uno differunt, quod femina dominatur. In tantum non modo a libertate sed etiam a servitute degenerant' (Germania, xlv).

3 'Atticae facundiae claritate diserta est. Romani eloquii pompa resplendet, nativi sermonis ubertate gloriatur: excellit cunctos in propriis, cum sit aequaliter utique mirabilis' (Cass. Var. XI.1).

4 Cass. Var. I.24.

5 Procopius, de Bell. Gotth. I.2.

6 Felix Dahn, in his romance 'Ein Kampf um Rom,' makes the names of the three nobles Tulum, Ibbas, and Pitzias; a very probable conjecture as to the first two names. Pitzias was still living when the Gothic war broke out.

7 Not to be confounded with Uliaris the drunkard and the accidental cause of the death of John the Armenian. See p619.

8 Procopius says that he could easily explain what this point of doctrine was, but does not choose to do so: and here he inserts the confession of theistic faith which was quoted in the preceding chapter (see p579).

9 See p528.

10 Amalaric, the Spanish grandson of Theodoric, fell in a war with the Franks in the year 531, and was succeeded by Theudis, whose power had long overshadowed his own.

11 'Satis beatus unicis Sabinis.'

12 See Cass. Var. IV.39 and V.12.

13 Procop. de Bell. Gotth. I.4.

14 He can hardly have been more than forty-five or fifty years of age, as we find him twenty-eight years later, in 562, sent to Mesopotamia to negotiate a treaty with Persia (Menander, 3).º

15 We get this date only from the 'Annals of Ravenna,' as preserved in Agnellus, Liber Pontificalis, p322 (ed. Holder-Egger).

16 This is Dahn's view.

17 'Cujus prius ideo justitiam pertuli, ut prius ad ejus provectionis gradum pervenirem.' The expression is peculiar, but agrees remarkably with the account given by Procopius of Amalasuntha's apology for her conduct in promoting the edict of restitution.

18 We get this date, like that of the death of Athalaric, only from Agnellus.

19 Πέτρος μὲν οὖν Θεοδάτῳ τε ἄντικρυς ἐμαρτύρατο καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις Γότθοις ὅτι δὴ αὐτοῖς τοῦ δεινοῦ ἐξειργασμένου ἄσπονδος βασιλεί τε καὶ σφίσιν ὁ πόλεμος ἔσται (Procop. de Bell. Gotth. I.4).

20 Charge in the Anecdota against Theodora of being the cause of Amalasuntha's death. Procopius in his Anecdota makes Peter himself privy to Amalasuntha's death. According to the account of the matter there given by him, when Amalasuntha conceived the idea of abdicating the throne and retiring to Constantinople, Theodora, fearing the effect on her husband's affections of the presence of so beautiful and accomplished a woman, of royal blood, determined to prevent the visit, and gave secret instructions to Peter to that effect, when he set forth on his embassy. Accordingly on his arrival in Italy, Peter 'using I know not what arguments, persuaded Theodahad to make away with Amalasuntha.' For this service Peter was rewarded with the dignity of Master of the Offices, but he earned by it the hatred of all good men. There is here a direct contradiction, which is indeed acknowledged by the author, between the two versions of the same transaction given by him: but he says that fear of Theodora prevented him from giving the true account of the matter before. Different enquirers will probably come to different conclusions when the evidence is thus conflicting. To me the story in the History seems simple, straightforward, and coherent, and I am disposed to reject the account in the Anecdota as a malicious after-thought of the revengeful old age of Procopius.


[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 31 Jul 20