The Death of Odoacer and the Rise of Theodoric the Great
In a previous post I wrote about how in 476 AD the German warlord Odoacer had overthrown the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustus. After the overthrow of Romulus Augustus, the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno wanted Odoacer to recognize a new Western Roman Emperor, in particular one hand picked by Zeno himself. However Odoacer refused, dispensing with the old Imperial system and declaring himself King of Italy. Zeno was greatly angered by this, but with internal revolts and rampaging Goths tearing apart his empire, there wasn’t anything he could do about it. Ten years later, the Goths were still rampaging through the Eastern Roman Empire, in fact they had laid siege to Constantinople itself. Things were going badly for Zeno, while the Byzantines were well defended behind the walls of Constantinople and generous supplies were being shipped into the city, it was only a matter of time before rebellions broke out somewhere in the empire, or foreign powers such as the Huns or the Sassanid Persians took advantage of the situation. For the sake of his empire, he had to do something to get those dang Goths off his back. Likewise for the Ostrogothic King Theodoric, besieging Constantinople was no picnic either. Constantinople was perhaps the mostly heavily fortified city in Europe, and many attempts to sack the city would fail miserably. Thus, Emperor Zeno approached King Theodoric with an offer, one that would kill two birds with one stone. Odoacer was still on Zeno’s shit list, thus he told Theodoric, “You know, Italy is ripe for the taking and Italian cities are not nearly as well defended as Constantinople. Why not go to Italy and become their problem?” Theodoric was like, “OK, that’s sounds cool bye now 🙂 “
In 488 AD Theodoric and the Ostrogoths crossed the Alps and invaded Italy. Theodoric won victory after victory against Odoacer. By 491 Theodoric had won control of almost all of Italy, with the exception of the old Imperial capital of Ravenna. Ravenna had been made capital of the Western Roman Empire in 402 because the city was surrounded by swamps, with only a few available approaches to the city. Thus the city was easy to defend. Theodoric found that laying siege to Ravenna was no better than laying siege to Constantinople. Despite Odoacer being backed into a corner with few loyal troops left, the war dragged on. On February 25th, 493 the Bishop of Ravenna finally brokered a peace deal between the two kings in which the two rulers would share power. To celebrate the new peace deal, Theodoric invited Odoacer to a grand banquet. Those who are avid viewers of the show Game of Thrones can probably predict what would happen next.
In the midst of the banquet, Theodoric unexpectedly drew his sword and struck Odoacer right through the collar bone. Odoacer’s entourage were also grabbed and their throats were cut, while his wife was taken away and stoned to death. As Odoacer was dying he cried out, “Where is God!?” Theodoric, standing over his body responded, “This is what you did to my friends”. When Odoacer was dead Theodoric remarked, “
There certainly wasn’t a bone in this wretched fellow.”
The Emperor Zeno would give Theodoric the title of Viceroy of Italy. Thus Theodoric was a subject of Zeno and Italy was officially a part of the Roman Empire once again… but not really. In reality Theodoric was now King of Italy, and his rule would bring a short lived measure of peace and prosperity the likes of which hadn’t been seen for over a century. Under Theodoric, Italy would undergo a renaissance, with a revival of trade, commerce, and culture. Today, Theodoric is known posthumously as “Theodoric the Great”.