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36. Ostrogoths in Italy

Amalasuntha AthalaricCoin MAPEmpire534 OdoacerCoin TheodoricCoin

A coin of Odoacer shows that the Herulian king had learned the Roman lesson of coinage as a means of stamping his authority over his subjects. Indeed, the only visible outcome of the barbarian revolution in Italy seems to be that henceforward the coloni would pay their taxes to him directly rather than to Roman senators. In all other respects little else changed for the Italians.

Under Theodoric the Ostrogoth, Italy would enjoy a peace and prosperity that few imperial Romans had managed for almost a hundred years. Images of the great German king were all erased on the orders of Justinian; however, a portrait of Theodoric survives on one of his coins

Theodoric’s remarkable daughter, Amalasuntha, mother of the child Athalaric. Classically educated and ruthlessly ambitious, she assumed her son’s regency the moment her father died.

Athalaric is an exemplar of the generational diffusion of ability in a noble line. Theodoric’s grandson became a wastrel and drunkard, dying from his self-abuse at only 17; this partially wrecked coin is a suitable symbol.

Illustrations © Oliver Frey; Maps © Roger M. Kean


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