Book Review: Theoderic and the Roman Imperial Restoration


by Jonathan J. Arnold

Cambrdige & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. xii, 340. Notes, biblio., index. $95.00. ISBN: 1107054400

The Barbarian Who Created A “Romano-Gothic” Empire

Widely known as “Theoderic the Great,” the Ostrogothic King of Italy Theoderic (r. 489–526) has long been seen as not only the greatest ruler of the “Barbarian” successor states to the Western Empire, but also as an admirer and patron of Roman culture, which is the theme of this work. 

Prof. Arnold (Tulsa) argues that Theoderic largely revived many old imperial institutions and practices to the extent that his kingdom was almost a “restored” version of the Roman Empire in the west. While doing this, Arnold also reminds us that Late Antiquity still suffers from the negative “Dark Ages” created by Renaissance and Enlightenment scholars obsessed with the perceived glories of the Classical era. He points out how the image of the king acquired Roman trappings, royal legislation protecting Roman institutions and even strengthening them, and particularly the regularization of relations between the Gothic and Roman elements of the kingdom.

This is an interesting thesis, and Arnold marshals a good deal of evidence in its support, drawing upon the principal historians from the times, including Cassiodorus and Ennodius, as well as Gothic and Gotho-Roman law, ecclesiastical documents, and so forth. 

Theoderic’s “Romano-Gothic” empire did not, however, long survive his passing, due largely to quarrels and warfare among his successors, which made the state vulnerable to the East Roman Emperor’s Justinian’s attempt at “restoration” of the Empire by conquest from Constantinople, which devastated Italy. Nevertheless, this is an important read for those interested in Late Antiquity and the transition from Roman to Romano-Barbarian, to post-Roman society.

 Note: Theoderic and the Roman Imperial Restoration is also available in paperback, ISBN 978-1-1072-9427-1, and as an e-Book, ISBN 978-1-1076-7947-4

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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