Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Amalasuntha, Daughter of the King

     Amalasuntha died around 534 AD, strangled in her bath according to Jordanes. Procopius agrees she was murdered.  You may ask who was Amalasuntha and why do we care.  I shall try to answer that.
     She was firstly the daughter of Theodoric the Great, the Ostrogoth King of Italy.  When Theodoric died, his throne passed on to Amalasuntha's son, Athalaric, a sickly lad of ten.  The kingdom had peace for eight years under his rule and the regency of his mother but it was not to last.  Athalaric died at the age of eighteen, leaving his mother alone to rule the kingdom.  His father Eutharic had died before Theodoric.   The Goths were not disposed to follow the rule of a woman even the daughter of Theodoric the Great so Amalasuntha asked her cousin Theohadad, who was the king of Tuscany, to be her co-ruler.  He immediately exiled her, seized her throne and, within a few days, Jordanes related, he had her strangled in her bath. 
     Procopius also had a few things to say about Amalasuntha since her father had been fostered at the court in Constantinople and the rule of Italy had been conferred on Theodoric and his family by the Byzantine emperor.  They were under his protection and, after the death of Amalasuntha and Athalaric, Mathesuentha moved to Constantinople with her second husband Germanus, the nephew of Justinian. 
     Procopius would never accuse the empress Theodora during his lifetime.  Far too risky.  He wrote about it in his Secret History that was not published until after his death.  He wrote that Amalasuntha was planning to move to Constantinople and Theodora sent a man to assassinate her before she could arrive and possibly become a rival for the emperor's affections.  Amalasuntha was still young and beautiful, a widow and the daughter of a king.  
     This could have been the case because Amalasuntha's mother was Audofleda, the sister of Clovis and the oft warring Merovingian kings were her cousins.  Yet they seemed to do nothing about her murder but Justinian, the emperor, took this opportunity to launch an invasion to reclaim Italy. 
     Faced with the large and well armed Byzantine army, the Goths deposed Theohadad and chose his armor bearer, Vitiges, as his replacement.  Theohadad then fled and was pursued and killed by Vitiges's men.  Vitiges then married the last surviving member of Theodoric's family, Amalasuntha's daughter Mathesuentha, and prepared to defend Italy against the Byzantines. 
     Where is Gregory of Tours account in all of this since it involves a member of the Merovingian clan?  He does write an account of Amalasuntha but it is slanderous and full of malice towards her.  Amalasuntha was a virtuous woman, whose mother died of old age before she did.  She married a prince willingly and had two children with him but Gregory says nothing about that.  He wrote that she was a wicked woman who ran off with a slave and murdered her mother and that Theodat (as he named him) was the avenger who did right to have her killed.  Gregory also wrote that Childebert, Lothar, and Theudebert did demand wergeld from Theodat for her death, not that they cared but that it was an opportunity for a cash grab. 
    One has to wonder why a good Christian man like Gregory would formulate such lies about Amalasuntha when it is a sin to do so.  I read one suggestion that it may have been because she was a member, like most Goths, of the Arian sect and if there is one thing Gregory clearly despises it is a heretic especially the Arians.  This story may have been just to discredit one more Arian since it is probably not a sin if you lie for the purpose of turning people towards the true faith. 
     Now for the second question, why do we care?  There are lines in Jordanes, sec. XLVIII, 
"For his son Beremud, as we have said before, at last grew to despise the race of the Ostrogoths because of the overlordship of the Huns, and so had followed the tribe of the Visigoths to the western country, and it was from him Veteric was descended.  Veteric also had a son Eutharic, who married Amalasuentha, the daughter of Theodoric, thus uniting again the stock of the Amali which had divided long ago."
If Tolkien was in part inspired by Jordanes, compare those lines with this line from Appendix A in Return of the King, " ... Arwen and Aragorn.  By the last the long-sundered branches of the Half-elven were reunited and their line was restored."  I had a thought that Eutharic might have been the historical Aragorn, he is a descendant of Theodoric the Visigoth who stood with the last might of Rome to repel Attila the Hun,  but nothing else about him fits.  But, if he were Aragorn, then Amalasuntha would be Arwen.  I guess they were just one more ingredient that went into the soup.   The search for Aragorn still goes on.

From Wikipedia:
"The Amali were one of the leading dynasties of the Goths, a Germanic people who confronted the Roman Empire in its declining years in the west.  They were also called the Amals, Amaler, or Amaling and were at one point considered highest in rank among Gothic fighters and royal dignity.  According to Gothic legend, the Amali were descended from an ancient hero whose deeds earned him the title of Amala or 'mighty'."  Beren One-Hand, anyone?

Beatles Song of the Week

Te amat, heia, heia, heia!
Te amat, heia, heia, heia!
Cogitas tuum amorem amissis,
Certe eam heri vidi,
Dicit te amat,
Et scis mallum non est.
Heia, te amat,
Et scis laetus sis. 
Dixit eam multum nocuis,
Paene eam mentum amissit,
Et nunc dicit ea scit,
Genus qui nocere non es,
Dicit te amat,
Et scis malum non est,
Dicit te amat,
Et scis laetus  sis.
Te amat, heia, heia, heia......


2 comments:

Tracy said...

Wonder why Gregory of Tours account of Amalasuntha is so different to others? There must be a reason why his is so seriously biased - whose interests does his account serve? Just goes to show, you have to check as many sources as possible.

Amalasuntha as Arwen - interesting. Eutharic as Aragorn? Hmmm.
But it would make a good film (doubtless with Kiera Knightly as Amalasuntha)

And the Beatles song - do I really need to name it? Yeah, yeah, yeah :)

Hermine said...

The characters don't fit well just the idea that the sundered royal branches were reunited by the marriage.
I think for a while Gregory of Tours, since he was better known, held sway. The Wikipedia entry on her was taken from an old encyclopedia and copies what he wrote. But Jordanes's copied his history from Amalasuntha's secretary Cassiodorus. Cassiodorus's letters survive, Amalasuntha's daughter lived out her days in Constatinople around the time of Procopius and I believe Jordanes, who copied the history there. Even the guy who translated my copy of Gregory wrote in the footnotes that Gregory's account of Amalasuntha is false. How could she have had two children if she was killed for murdering her mother before she was ever married? If her son was illegitimate, he would not have inherited the throne.