Book Review: Amalasuintha: The Transformation of Queenship in the Post-Roman World


by Massimiliano Vitiello

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017. Pp. xii, 296. Illus., map, stemma, table., notes, index. $69.95. ISBN: 081224947X

A Forgotten Gothic Queen

Having produced a book on the Ostrogothic king Theodahad Prof. Vitiello (Missouri-Kansas City), follows up with a life of the man’s abler cousin Amalasuintha (c. 495-535).

Amalasuintha was the youngest daughter of the Romanizing King Theoderic, who married her to his designated successor, Prince Eutharic of the Visigoths, with the intention of uniting to two branches of the Gothic nation. But Eutharic died before Theoderic, leaving Amalasuintha with two young children, a boy and a girl. She became the guardian of their son, Athalaric, the new heir. Her father, Theoderic, clearly groomed her to rule in the boy’s name until Eutharic attained his majority, a role for which he carefully prepared her, providing the young woman with an excellent education in the Roman fashion. When her father died, Amalasuintha projected assumed power in her son’s name. Projecting a “masculine” image, she managed domestic matters well for nearly a decade (526-534), aided by the occasional murder, clashing with traditionalist Gothic nobility, while winning over the still important Roman senatorial class, and her dealings with the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian, on paper her overlord, were quite well managed.

On the death of Eutharic in 534, however, Amalasuintha lost her base of power. Trying to keep it, she designated as co-ruler her cousin Theodahad, whom she had previously shut out of power. The arrangement didn’t last, and he soon had her imprisoned and murdered.

In telling the story of this obscure character in history, Vitiello draws not only from contemporary histories – Cassiodorus, Procopius, and the less reliable St. Gregory – but also makes extensive use of surviving documents, letters, sermons, art, and poetry, and even offers an analysis of how changes in terminology affected events, to help develop this account of the life of a remarkable woman.

Amalasuintha is a valuable read for anyone interested in Late Antiquity or women in history, and would even be useful reading for the layman curious about the times.


Note: Amalasuintha is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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