Amalaswintha

(d. 535)
   Gothic princess and daughter of the important Ostrogothic king of Italy, Theodoric the Great. As regent, Amalaswintha was active in the political life of Italy after Theodoric's death, and she promoted her personal interests and those of her immediate family against enemies in her extended family and among the Gothic nobility in Italy. Her rivalry with other Gothic leaders over control of her son, Athalaric, and then for control of the kingdom after Athalaric's death brought her great difficulties and increased her longstanding pro-Roman political sensibilities. Her relationship with the Byzantine emperor Justinian brought her support in Italy but, if the sixth-century Byzantine historian Procopius is to be believed, the enmity of the great empress Theodora. A possible pawn in Justinian's grand political designs, Amalaswintha drew Justinian further into Italian affairs, and her death led to the Byzantine invasion of the peninsula and the Gothic Wars of Justinian.
   The daughter of Theodoric, the most powerful barbarian king of the early sixth century, Amalaswintha was an important figure in Italian political life even before her father's death in 526. Her marriage in 515 to the Spanish Visigoth, Eutharic, was part of Theodoric's efforts to preserve and extend his control over the Goths and in Italy. Eutharic's marriage to Amalaswintha made him part of Theodoric's family and allowed the great king to appoint his son-in-law as his successor, thus eliminating Theodoric's own nephew from the succession and from power in general. Although it caused problems after 526 for Amalaswintha, Eutharic's death in 522/523 hindered Theodoric's plans little, because Eutharic had provided an heir, Athalaric, who, jointly with Amalaswintha, was designated successor to the throne. Moreover, although it was not apparently political, Amalaswintha's first-rate education served her well during her father's lifetime and after. And in fact her education did have political overtones because it was a traditional Roman education; Theodoric may have provided her with a Roman education because of his interest in establishing harmonious Roman-Gothic relations.
   Before his death, Theodoric appointed Athalaric as his successor. In 526 Athalaric was still a minor, and his mother assumed the regency. The opening years of Amalaswintha's regency were relatively peaceful, and her abilities were recognized by many, including Procopius, who spoke highly of her courage and intelligence. She sought to restore good relations between Goths and Romans, which had broken down in the last years of her father's reign, especially over Theodoric's imprisonment and execution of Boethius. She restored the confiscated estates of Boethius to his family and sought the counsel of the Roman Senate. To promote good relations with the Romans, she sent a letter to the emperor in Constantinople, seeking to bury old hatreds, and provided her son with a Roman education. To placate the Gothic nobility, she sought to improve relations with other barbarian peoples in the former Western Roman Empire. Ostrogothic armies enjoyed success in 530 against a mixed barbarian force on the northeastern frontier, and Amalaswintha pursued improved relations with the Burgundians. The alliance collapsed, however, in the early 530s as a result of her failure to send the army against the Merovingian Franks when they invaded and conquered the Burgundians. The situation on the kingdom's northern frontier worsened as a result of this failure, and it may also have contributed to her problems with the Gothic nobility in the early 530s.
   Despite her early successes and the peace in the kingdom in the opening years of the regency, Amalaswintha faced a grave crisis in 532/533 that nearly ended her power. As her son approached his majority, a rival, possibly anti-Roman, faction in the kingdom attempted to take control of her son and the kingdom. One of the criticisms her enemies raised was that Athalaric was being made "too Roman" and needed to learn good Gothic values. The young king was persuaded by the rebels and supported them against his mother. In the face of this crisis, Amalaswintha sent a letter to Justinian seeking political asylum. The emperor invited the queen to Constantinople and sent a ship with 40,000 pounds of gold to rescue her. Amalaswintha sent the royal treasury to a palace provided by Justinian, but decided to stay and fight for control of her kingdom. The Frankish threat to the frontier provided the queen with the pretext to send the three leaders of the revolt to the frontier. Once they were away from court, she had them killed and as a result saved her position.
   Although she secured her hold on power, Amalaswintha faced continued difficulties over the next few years, worsened perhaps by the death of her son in 534. She hoped to resolve the crisis by remarrying, and in 534 she married her hostile family rival, Theodohad, made him coregent, and declared herself queen. Allowed to mint coins and to assume the royal title, Theodohad had to recognize the authority of Amalaswintha and follow her commands. But Theodohad, along with the families of the murdered rebels of 532, had other ideas. They plotted together against Amalaswintha, and in April 535 she was captured and imprisoned on an island in Lake Bolsena.
   The rough treatment of the queen brought strong protests from the imperial court at Constantinople, because she had remained neutral during Justinian's invasion of the Vandal kingdom in North Africa and had allowed the Byzantine commander, Belisarius, to use Sicily as a staging ground for his armies. Certainly, too, Justinian's earlier support for Amalaswintha and the long-standing good relations between the two reinforced the emperor's desire to protect her. Moreover, according to Procopius, the emperor had tired of his wife, Theodora, and was highly attracted to the young and intelligent Gothic queen, who would have provided the emperor with great wealth and access to Italy, which he hoped to reattach to imperial control. Procopius further suggested that although Justinian publicly demanded the release of the queen, Theodora secretly plotted her murder with agents in Italy. Although Procopius's version of events is unlikely, Justinian did support the queen against her rivals, and her murder was a public affront to the emperor, especially after Theodohad assured him that no harm would come to her. Her murder provided Justinian with the justification he needed to invade Italy, defeat the Goths, and reunite the old heartland of the empire with the Eastern Empire.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Bury, John B. History of the Later Roman Empire: From the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian. Vol. 2. 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1959
 ♦ Heather, Peter. The Goths. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.
 ♦ Llewellyn, Peter. Rome in the Dark Ages. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1993.
 ♦ Procopius. The History of the Wars; Secret History, 4 vols. Trans. Henry Bronson Dewing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914-1924.
 ♦ Thiébaux, Marcelle, ed. and trans. The Writings of Medieval Women: An Anthology. 2d ed. New York: Garland, 1994.
 ♦ Wolfram, Herwig. The Roman Empire and its Germanic Peoples. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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