Amalasuntha (c. 498–535)

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Amalasuntha (c. 498–535)

Regent of Ostrogothic Italy. Name variations: Amalswinthe, Amalaswintha, Amalasontha, Amalasuentha. Born around 498 in Italy; killed in 535 (or 534) in Italy; daughter of Theodoric the Great, king of Italy, and Audofleda (sister of King Clovis); married Eutharic (d. 522), in 515; married her cousin Theodat also known as Theodahad or Theodatus; children: (first marriage) son Athalaric or Athalric; daughter Matasuntha .

Amalasuntha was the daughter of the powerful Theodoric the Great, who had conquered Italy with his Ostrogothic armies and declared himself king. Despite his barbarian tradition, Theodoric had immense respect for the culture and government of ancient Rome, and he encouraged his daughter to study its literature and history. When Theodoric died in 526 without a male heir, the kingdom fell to Amalasuntha, then age 28, as guardian of her son. Intelligent and cultured, she reigned for nine years and earned the enmity of her Ostrogothic nobles for her conciliatory foreign policies to Justinian and Theodora of the later Roman capital at Byzantium (Istanbul), who were viewed as enemies of Italy. Aware of her risky position, Amalasuntha promised the Byzantine emperor that if her throne were lost, she and her entire Ostrogothic treasury would move to Constantinople.

Amalasuntha's desire to stay on good terms with both Rome and the Church brought about plotting by her people. In 533, after successfully thwarting a rebellion of her nobles, she put to death three of its instigators. In 534, when her 17-year-old son died, Amalasuntha married and became co-ruler with her cousin Theodat to gain support against her rebellious subjects. Some sources say that Justinian, in an attempt to arrange the peaceful addition of Italy to the Byzantine Empire, also married Amalasuntha. Theodat, fearing for his own position (and encouraged by Byzantine empress Theodora who feared for hers), overthrew Amalasuntha in 534 and banished her to an island in the lake of Bolsena (Tuscany, Italy). In 535, while in her bath, Amalasuntha was strangled to death by relatives of the three nobles she had put to death. Some say the assassins acted on orders of Theodat who feared she would escape and regain control of Italy; others say they acted on orders of Theodora.

Audofleda (c. 470–?)

Queen of Italy. Born around 470; daughter of Childeric; sister of King Clovis I (c. 466–511); married Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths; children: Amalasuntha (c. 498–535).

The death of Amalasuntha, the rightful queen, provided Justinian with the necessary pretext for invasion. He could both avenge her and save the Orthodox Church in Italy, which was in danger of being overthrown by the Goths. The emperor sent an army against her murderers under the celebrated general Belisarius, who defeated and dethroned Theodat.


Tuck, Stephen L. "Justinian," in Historic World Leaders. Edited by Anne Commire. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994.

Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane, ed. A History of Women in the West: Silences of the Middle Ages. Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard, 1992.

Laura York , Anza, California