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27 Jul

Ostrogothic Kingdom

The Ostrogothic Kingdom with capital in Ravenna was established by Theodoric the Great in 493. The Byzantine Emperor Zeno commissioned Theodoric to capture Italy from Odoacer who deposed the last Western Roman Emperor. The Ostrogoths invaded Italy in 488 and after five years of struggles both kings agreed to rule Italy jointly. However, Theodoric the Great murdered Odoacer and established the Ostrogothic Kingdom which was also recognized by the Byzantine Empire.

Like Odoacer, Theodoric the Great formally ruled Italy as a patricius and a subject of the Byzantine Emperor although he was virtually an independent ruler. Theodoric also established a close collaboration with the Roman population although the Romans and newly arrived Goths did not merge and remained divided into two groups. The Romans were subjected to the Roman law and Roman judicial system and were loyal to the Catholic Church, while the Goths followed their own laws and were predominantly adherents of Arianism. Theodoric issued Edictum regis Theodorici about in year 500 to determine the relations between the Ostrogoths and Romans although the newest studies imply that the edict was probably issued by Theodoric II, King of Visigoths. Theodoric the Great was also active in foreign politics. The Ostrogothic King managed to connect himself with other barbarian kings through clever politics of alliances. However, Theodoric did not succeed to limit the ambitions of Clovis I, King of Franks neither to repulse intrigues of the Byzantine Empire.

In the last years of his rule Theodoric turned against the Catholics and Romans which greatly affected the stability of the Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy. Reconciliation between the Byzantine Emperor Justin I and Pope John I that was followed by Justin’s decree against the Arians restored the Byzantine authority in Western Europe and resulted in the persecutions of the Arians. Theodoric imprisoned the Pope for conspiracy with Justin I and began to persecute the Roman nobility and its highly respected representatives including Symmachus and the magister officiorum Boethius.

Theodoric was succeeded by his minor son Athalaric after his death in 526, while the regency was assumed by his mother Amalasuntha who tried to reconcile the Ostrogoths and the Romans. On Athalaric’s death in 534 Amalasuntha was forced to conclude an alliance with her cousin Theodahad who imprisoned her on an island in the Tuscan lake of Bolsena where she was murdered in the spring of 535. Amalasuntha’s violent death enabled the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I to intervene in Italy without revealing his true plans.

Justinian commissioned Belisarius to invade the Ostrogothic Kingdom in 535. Belisarius landed in Sicily in 535 and shortly afterwards conquered Rome. The Byzantine final success was temporarily halted by the siege of Rome by Ostrogoths led by their new king Witigis. However, when Belisarius threatened with a march to Ravenna and Byzantine allies Franks plundered the northern part of the Ostrogothic Kingdom Witigis surrendered and Italy returned under Byzantine rule in 540.

The Ostrogoths took advantage of the absence of Belisarius who left Italy for a campaign against the Persians. Under the command of their new king Totila the Ostrogoths recaptured almost all lost territory between 541 and 542. General Belisarius was sent to Italy for the second time but did not repeat the success from his first campaign against the Ostrogothic Kingdom. He was retired and replaced with Narzes who invaded the Ostrogothic Kingdom from the north. Narzes defeated and killed Totila in the Battle of Taginae in 552 and decisively defeated the last remnants of the Gothic army and their new king Teias in the Battle of Mons Lactarius one year later. The Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy ceased to exist and Italy was once again under Byzantine rule.

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