Theodoric the Great

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Theodoric the Great

Theodoric the Great, c.454–526, king of the Ostrogoths and conqueror of Italy, b. Pannonia. He spent part of his youth as a hostage in Constantinople. Elected king in 471 after his father's death, he became involved in intrigues in which he was by turns the ally and the enemy of Byzantine emperor Zeno. In 483 he was appointed imperial master of soldiers and in 484 was consul. It was probably to be rid of him that Zeno commissioned him to lead a campaign against Odoacer in Italy. Theodoric with his Gothic army entered Italy in 488. He won battles at the Isonzo (489), at Milan (489), and at the Adda (490); he besieged and took Ravenna (493). Shortly after Odoacer's surrender Theodoric murdered him. Theodoric was now master in Italy; because of his great power he was able to avoid Byzantine supervision and thus was more than a mere official. His title was that of patrician. His long rule in Italy was most beneficent; he respected Roman institutions, preserved Roman laws, and appointed Romans to civil offices, at the same time retaining a Gothic army and settling Goths on the land. He improved the harbors and repaired the roads and public buildings. He allied himself by marriage with Clovis the Frank (Clovis I) and with the kings of the Visigoths, Vandals, and Burgundians. However, Clovis's ambition to rule all the Goths brought Theodoric into intermittent warfare with the Franks; between 506 and 523 Theodoric was several times successful in forestalling Frankish hegemony. An Arian, Theodoric was impartial in religious matters. The end of his reign was clouded by a quarrel with his Roman subjects and Pope John I over the edicts of Emperor Justin I against Arianism, and also by the hasty execution of the Roman statesman Boethius, whom he accused of treason. Theodoric is the prototype for Dietrich von Bern in the German epic poem Nibelungenlied. His tomb is one of the finest monuments of Ravenna. He was succeeded by his grandson Athalaric, under the regency of Theodoric's daughter Amalasuntha.


See T. Hodgkin, Theodoric the Goth (1891, repr. 1977); T. S. Burns, A History of the Ostrogoths (1984).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Theodoric the Great


(also Theodoricus, Theoderich). Born circa 454 in Pannonia; died Aug. 26, 526, in Ravenna.

Theodoric became king of the Ostrogoths in 493 and founded the Ostrogothic state in Italy. Having invaded Italy in 488, Theodoric seized power after he overthrew and assassinated Odoacer. He expressed the interests of the feudalized Ostrogothic aristocracy, which drew closer to the Roman aristocracy, and retained Roman institutions in his rule and legislation. The strengthening of central authority under Theodoric promoted the development of land cultivation, commerce, learning, and art.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
For the present reviewer, whose first close acquaintance with the poems dealing with Dietrich von Bern goes back to the acquisition, more than forty years ago, of the two-volume set of Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen's Heldenbuch: Altdeutsche Heldenlieder aus dem Sagenkreise Dietrichs von Bern and der Nibelungen (Leipzig: Schultze, 1855), the appearance of this, the first volume of a new series of editions of the historical epics, is most welcome, and indeed the book may expect a warm reception generally.
Dietrich von Bern Heroic figure of Germanic legend, apparently derived from Theodoric the Great, an Ostrogothic king of Italy who reigned from 493 to 526 AD.
It seems a long time since we had a readable introduction to the extensive corpus of medieval poems dealing with Dietrich von Bern. To be sure, in 1964 de Gruyter themselves published Roswitha Wisniewski's revision of Hermann Schneider's Deutsche Heldensage (Volume 32 in the old Sammlung Goschen), a work that replaced Otto Jiriczek's Die deutsche Heldensage in the same series, first published in 1894, revised in 1897, and even translated into English in 1902.
One group deals with the Ostrogothic sagas of Ermenrich (Ermanaric), Etzel (Attila), and Dietrich von Bern, who is its central figure and the ideal type of German medieval hero.