This is Volume III in a set of books reissued by the Folio Society – “The Barbarian Invasions of the Roman Empire“ – that trace the invasions of the Roman Empire and Italy from the time of the Emperor Julian until Charlemagne in 800. This volume takes the story up to the eve of the attempt by the Emperor Justinian to retake North Africa and Italy in 530 or so.
This period begins with Odovacar ruling in Italy and doing a reasonable job of it, as evidenced by the number of prominent Romans that joined the administration. Meanwhile, the Ostrogoths were trying to find a place in the Balkans and the Eastern Empire. In a replay of the situation with the Visigoths in th 470s, the east attempted to play the Ostrogoths off against other tribes in the area to reduce both. As in 476, this didn’t work out again – Theodoric, the Ostrogoth king managed to beat the other and absorb most of the forces. Finally, tired of the effort and possibly prodded by the Eastern Empire, the Ostrogoths moved out of the Balkans into Italy.
The Ostrogoths had a difficult passage, but in the end managed to scatter Odovacar’s forces and shut him up in Ravenna. From that point, 490, Theodoric and the Ostrogoths ruled Italy. It took a siege of several years for Ravenna to surrender.
Theodoric ruled Italy well also, being for the most part religiously tolerant. Many of the same Roman grandees that worked with Odovacar ended up working with him. But when Theodoric died in 526, problems began to appear. The new king Athalaric was a child, and the Eastern Emperor Justinian had sent his general Belisarius to north Africa to take on the Vandals. This he managed to do with dispatch, and the rule of the Vandals was over.
Theodoric’s daughter Amalasuntha was regent, and might have been a good one. But the Gothic leaders did not go along with her. The first thing they did was interfere in the discipline she had over the king. Once freed of her influence, the young king rewarded the leaders by drinking and partying himself into an early grave.
Events started to move quicker in 534. Amalasuntha began to take steps to protect herself, shipping the treasury to a port in the Eastern Empire and sending assassins to deal with her rivals. She also began to negotiate surrender of Italy to Justinian secretly. Justinian was also dickering with another Goth, Theodahad, who was willing to surrender North Italy for a price.
At this point the king died, and Amalasuntha decided to support Theodahad to be joint ruler with herself in the election of the next King. This was a big mistake, as Theodahad was a scoundrel and soon had her strangled in her bath. This was just the pretext that Justinian needed for war.