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Theodoric proffered his vanquished enemy far better terms than he could have expected—that he should retain his kingly title and a share in the rule of Italy. But, when Odoacer had laid down his arms and came to his conqueror's camp, he was treacherously slain at a banquet, only ten days after Ravenna fell. This was almost the only base and mean crime in Theodoric's long and otherwise glorious career: his whole conduct at the time of the surrender seems to prove that he deliberately lured his rival to visit him, with the fixed intention of putting him to death. (March, 493.)
So died Odoacer in the sixtieth year of his age; seventeen years after he had slain Orestes, he met the same fate that he had inflicted on his predecessor.
The Ostrogothic race—Character of Theodoric—His Administration of Italy— Theodoric in Rome—Foreign Policy of Theodoric—His wars with the Franks and Burgundians—His supremacy in Western Europe—Misfortunes of his later years—Death of Boethius–Failure of Theodoric's great schemes.
FROM the formal and constitutional point of view the substitution of king Theodoric for king Odoacer, as ruler in Italy, made no change in the position of affairs. From the practical point of view the change was important, for the new Teutonic kingdom was very much stronger than the old. Its ruler was a younger and a far abler man, the wisest and most far-sighted of all the Germans of the fifth and sixth centuries. Moreover, the military power of the Ostrogoths was far greater than that of the mixed multitude of Foederati who had followed Odoacer. They were a numerous tribe, confident of their own valour after a century of successful war, and devotedly attached to the king, who, for the last twenty years, had never failed to lead them to victory. While they preserved their ancient courage, they had acquired, by a stay of three generations within the bounds of the empire, a higher level of civilisation than any other of the Teutonic tribes. Their dress, their armour, their manner of life, showed traces of their intercourse with Rome; they had been Christians for a century, and had forgotten many of the old heathen and barbarous customs of their ancestors. They possessed, too, first of all Teutonic peoples, the germ of a written literature in the famous Gothic Bible of Ulfilas. There are documents surviving, written in the character which Ulfilas had devised for his people, which show that there were Gothic clergy and even laymen who could commit their contracts to paper in their own tongue. Theodoric himself never learnt to write, but there must have been many among his subjects who could do so. Though the king actually discouraged the Goths from giving themselves up to book-learning, yet in the generation which followed him there were Goths skilled both in Roman and Greek literature, some even who called themselves philosophers and claimed to follow Plato. Of all the German nations it seemed that the Ostrogoths were the most suited to form the nucleus for a new kingdom, which should grow up a young and strong yet civilised state on the ruins of the Roman empire. And if any one man could have brought such a consummation to pass, Theodoric was certainly the most fitted for the task. Ten years spent as a hostage at Constantinople had shown him the strong and the weak points in the Roman system of administration; twenty character of years spent in the field at the head of his tribesTheodoric men had won him an experience in war, both with Roman and barbarian, that made him unequalled as a general. Italian statesmen found him a master-mind who could comprehend all difficulties of the administration of an empire. Gothic warriors looked up to him not only as the most skilful marshaller of a host, but also as the stoutest lance in his own army. Alike when he smote the Gepidae by the Danube, and when he drove the Foederati of Odoacer into the Adige, the king had himself headed the final and decisive charge that broke the shield-wall of the enemy. But Theodoric was even more than a great statesman and warrior: he was a man of wide mind and deep thought. His practical wisdom took shape in numerous proverbs which his subjects long treasured. And, in spite of one or two deep stains on his character, we may say that his brain was inspired by a sound and righteous heart. The essential justice and fairness of his mind shines out in his official correspondence, even when enveloped in the obscure and grandiloquent verbiage of his Secretary Cassiodorus. Among all the Teutonic kings he was the justissimus unus et servantissimus aequi, who set himSelf to curb the violence of the Goth, no less than the chicanery of the Roman, and taught both that he was no respecter of persons, but a judge set upon the throne to deal out even-handed justice. Alone among all rulers, Roman or German, in his day, he was a believer without tending in the least to become a persecutor. No monarch for a thousand years to come could have been found to echo Theodoric's magnificent declaration that ‘religion is a thing which the king cannot command, because no man can be compelled to believe against his will.” Though an Arian himself he employed Catholics, Gothic and Roman, as freely Theodoric's as those of his own sect. Even the Jews got religious strict justice from him, when every other state in “” the world dealt hardly with them. The abuse which he won from fanatical Christians for resenting the mobbing of a Rabbi, or the profanation of a synagogue, is one of the highest testimonies in his praise. ‘The benefits of justice,” he said, ‘must not be denied even to those who err from the faith.” Yet he was not, as were some others who tolerated Jews, a semi-pagan or an agnostic; the very rescripts which grant temporal justice to the oppressed Hebrews end with an appeal to them to leave their hard-heartedness and flee from the wrath to come. In managing the settlement of his victorious tribesmen on the soil of Italy, Theodoric showed much ability. The third of the land, which Odoacer had confiscated seventeen years before, seems to have sufficed for their establishment. The greater part of the Foederati who had been holding this third, had fallen in battle, and those who escaped the Gothic sword seem mostly to have perished in a simultaneous outbreak of riot and murder, by which the Italians celebrated the downfall of Odoacer, when they heard that he had finally been shut settlement of up in Ravenna. Hence Theodoric was able to the Ostro- provide for his countrymen without further spoliagoths. tion of the native proprietors. He threatened indeed for a moment to deprive of their lands and rights those Italians who adhered too long to Odoacer, but better counsel prevailed, and even those men were spared. So the Goths settled down with little friction among their new subjects: they lay thickly along the valley of the Po, and in Picenum, more sparsely scattered in Tuscany and central Italy; into the south few seem to have penetrated. Nearly all settled down to farm the country-side; only in the royal towns of Ravenna, Pavia, and Verona did the Goths become an appreciable element in the urban population. Theodoric's plan for dealing with the government of conquered Italy deserves careful study. He did not abolish the remains of the Roman administrative system which he found still existing, nor did he, on the other hand, endeavour to subject the Goths to Roman law. He was content that, for a time, two systems of administration should go on side by side. The Goths were to be ruled and judged by his ‘counts,’ the Gothic governors whom he set over each Italian province, his ealdormen, as an Anglo-Saxon would have called them, according to the traditional folk-right of their tribe. The Romans looked for justice to magistrates of their own race. If a Goth and a Roman went to law, the case was heard before the count and the Italian judge, sitting together on the same bench. In the central administration the same mixture of systems was seen. Theodoric's court was like that of another German king in many ways; he had about him his personal retinue of military retainers, the king's men, whom the Goths called by the name of Saiones, but whom, in writing our own English history we should call thegns or gesiths. The Saiones went on the king's errands, served him in bower and hall, and