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Theodoric the Goth

Barbarian Champion of Civilisation

Thomas Hodgkin

201 pages
Library of Alexandria
Theodoric the Ostrogoth is one of those men who did great deeds and filled a large space in the eyes of their contemporaries, but who, not through their own fault, but from the fact that the stage of the world was not yet ready for their appearance, have failed to occupy the very first rank among the founders of empires and the moulders of the fortunes of the human race. He was born into the world at the time when the Roman Empire in the West was staggering blindly to ruin, under the crushing blows inflicted upon it by two generations of barbarian conquerors. That Empire had been for more than six centuries indisputably the strongest power in Europe, and had gathered into its bosom all that was best in the civilisation of the nations that were settled round the Mediterranean Sea. Rome had given her laws to all these peoples, had, at any rate in the West, made their roads, fostered the growth of their cities, taught them her language, administered justice, kept back the barbarians of the frontier, and for great spaces of time preserved "the Roman peace" throughout their habitations. Doubtless there was another side to this picture: heavy taxation, corrupt judges, national aspirations repressed, free peasants sinking down into hopeless bondage. Still it cannot be denied that during a considerable part of its existence the Roman Empire brought, at least to the western half of Europe, material prosperity and enjoyment of life which it had not known before, and which it often looked back to with vain regrets when the great Empire had fallen into ruins. But now, in the middle of the fifth century, when Theodoric was born amid the rude splendour of an Ostrogothic palace, the unquestioned ascendancy of Rome over the nations of Europe was a thing of the past. There were still two men, one at the Old Rome by the Tiber, and the other at the New Rome by the Bosphorus, who called themselves August, Pious, and Happy, who wore the diadem and the purple shoes of Diocletian, and professed to be joint lords of the universe. Before the Eastern Augustus and his successors there did in truth lie a long future of dominion, and once or twice they were to recover no inconsiderable portion of the broad lands which had formerly been the heritage of the Roman people. But the Roman Empire at Rome was stricken with an incurable malady. The three sieges and the final sack of Rome by Alaric (410) revealed to the world that she was no longer "Roma Invicta", and from that time forward every chief of Teutonic or Sclavonic barbarians who wandered with his tribe over the wasted plains between the Danube and the Adriatic, might cherish the secret hope that he, too, would one day be drawn in triumph up the Capitolian Hill, through the cowed ranks of the slavish citizens of Rome, and that he might be lodged on the Palatine in one of the sumptuous palaces which had been built long ago for "the lords of the world."