Posts Tagged ‘Theohadad’

A Role Model for Blagojevich

Posted in General on December 11th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Studying history has given me a high standard for scandal. So I am not impressed by a governor attempting to auction off a seat in the U.S. Senate. No, to merit my interest Rod Blagojevich should have offered to sell the entire state. China might want Illinois just for the soybeans. While I would appreciate Blagojevich’s brazenness, I still could not credit him with originality. That same stunt was pulled by King Theodahad in 535 when he offered Italy for sale.

When faced with invasion by a rich enemy, Theodahad’s offer seemed a practical compromise. Even the Italians shouldn’t have minded. At least, the new owner would have a more pronounceable name: Justinian. Besides, Theodahad was not exactly an heroic inspiration–or even a paisan. He was an Ostrogoth, although with a veneer of Roman culture. (Theodahad fancied himself a classical scholar, which by Ostrogoth standards meant he could read.) His uncle Theodoric, leading a barbarian horde, had conquered Italy some 40 years earlier.

Theodoric (454-526) had proved to be an excellent ruler. In fact, he was last competent leader that Italy has had in the last 15 centuries. Unfortunately, his abilty was not hereditary but his monarchy was. Theodoric left the throne and Italy to an idiot grandson who managed to drink himself to death. With his preoccupying vice, the royal sot forgot to have heirs. His mother, Amalasuntha, was Theodoric’s daughter and assumed that she was next-in-line to the throne; she had been the regent during her son’s youth–although that clearly was not a glorious success. However, the Ostrogothic nobility did not like the idea of being ruled by a woman. To placate this barbarian misogyny, in 534 Amalasuntha agreed to share the throne with her cousin Theodahad.

That arrangement lasted only a few months. Although Theodahad had never shown any previous interest in politics, once he was on the throne he wanted the power all to himself. At least Amalasuntha did not seem to mind her ouster. In fact, she was planning a luxurious retirement in Constantinople. As regent and queen, she had been in correspondence with the Emperor Justinian and they had developed a friendship. There were suspicions that Justinian was smitten with the Ostrogothic queen, who was said to be a beautiful, voluptuous blonde. The Empress Theodora–who was a petite brunette–felt the need for her own foreign policy.

The ambassador from Constantinople presented Theohadad with a Byzantine puzzle. Justinian demanded the protection of Amalasuntha, but Theodora wanted a distinctly different form of care for her perceived rival. The Emperor and the Empress clearly had imcompatible aims, and Theohadad was in a hopeless position. Whatever he did, he would have an enemy and a war. The Byzantine ambassador confided this advice to Theohadad. Justinian would be the more congenial enemy; at least, he might forgive. Soon after, Amalasuntha died her in bath–strange accident.

Theohadad planned for the inevitable war by negotiating the surrender. Once the Byzantines landed in Italy, he would cede the kingdom in return for a yearly income of 1200 pounds of gold. (That would be the equivalent of 15 million dollars.) Of course, Theohadad did not mention his plans to the Ostrogoth army. So the commanders were surprised that the King did not respond when the Byzantines conquered Sicily in 535 and then invaded Southern Italy the next year. As the Byzantines moved north, the Ostrogoth generals simply decided to mobilize the army without Theohadad’s permission. And if they could ignore him, they might as well oust him. A cousin-in-law replaced him. The Ostrogoth nobles never knew of Theohadad’s treason (the Byzantines could keep a secret); they just despised him as an incompetent and a coward.

You already know the mortality rate among deposed Ostrogoth rulers. In Theohadad’s case, no one pretended it was an accident. The Byzantines would eventually conquer Italy but it took 19 years. The long war would destroy the Ostrogoths, exhaust the Byzantines and ravage Italy. Perhaps a simple if unethical sale would have been preferable…and a bargain.