- Theodahad: A Platonic King at the Collapse of Ostrogothic Italy by Massimiliano Vitiello
Massimiliano Vitiello’s book is a very welcome contribution to the late antique and early medieval history of the Goths and Italy in Euro-Mediterranean politics. After the preface, abbreviations, and introduction, there are five chapters on Theodahad the man, the noble, the co-regent and the king and his “end.” Each chapter is subdivided into sections. These are followed by an epilogue, three appendices on Cassiodorus and his Variae, a genealogical table, notes, a bibliography, an index of place names, and an index of people. The title page is illustrated with Theodahad’s monogram, and the jacket with illustrations of a follis depicting him and “Victory.” There are no maps and no chronology to refer to.
The bibliography consists of fifteen pages, ranging in publication date from the work of Johann Kašpar Freidrich Manso (1824) to Michael Shane Bjornlie (2013) and Richard W. Burgess and Michael Kulikowski (2013) publications, in addition to three pages of ancient sources. There are 1,130 endnotes, listed on pages 195 to 303. This evidences impressive research, but the University of Toronto Press’s house style of using endnotes slows down readers and is compounded by having the note numbering restart with each section/chapter. The e-book version is preferable as one can click between the text and notes.
Few scholars have focused on Theodahad (only eighteen titles in the bibliography contain a form of his name), and Vitiello is to be commended on synthesizing so much into one volume. The most-cited ancient sources are Cassiodorus and Procopius. Bjornlie (2009 and 2013) has advanced our understanding of Cassiodorus,7 and Geoffrey Greatrex (2014) has [End Page 470] summarized recent scholarship on Procopius.8 A. Daniel Frankforter (1996) presents a solid analysis of the political intrigue between Amalasuntha and Theodahad.9
Vitiello follows the traditional view of Theodahad being an unexpected, ineffective, and incompetent ruler. For example, Vitiello states that “his military policies were disastrous.” However, there is an alternative interpretation of certain points. While it is beyond doubt that Theodahad’s defence of Italy ultimately failed, he did organize and lead a sensible military defensive strategy of southern Italy and Naples (if not of Sicily), which came close to succeeding. He understood regional political strategy, and his policy was implemented, after his assassination, by the usurper, and then king, Witiges. Theodahad’s failing was not in his military defence planning but in not commanding the loyalty of enough of the right people in the right places at the right time, even before the loss of Sicily and southern Italy and then Naples.
Vitiello’s lack of a clear chronology leads to problems. For example, Vitiello dates Belisarius’s landing in Italy to “the summer of 536,” follows that with “Belisarius soon arrived in Naples,” and reports that “in November 536 … Belisarius, after a twenty-day siege, finally occupied Naples.” He does not account for the months between Belisarius’s landing in Italy and his arrival at Naples, which hardly occurred “soon” afterward. The delay may have been caused by local resistance to Belisarius’s army, as Samuel J. B. Barnish notes.10 In addition, supplies will have been limited as the Gothic army had previously ravaged Lucania and Bruttium, as confirmed by Cassiodorus (Variae, XII.5.3–4, quoted by Vitiello). It is likely that Theodahad ordered a scorched-earth policy to deny supplies to Belisarius’s forces. These, as well as political, factors would explain why it took Belisarius months to reach Naples, as he would have had to gather supplies from further afield among a population concerned for its own sustenance. Crucially, Theodahad’s orders to defend Bruttium gained time to prepare for the defence of Naples. Despite the loss of Sicily in 535 and of Naples and southern Italy in 536, and despite his fleeing Rome at the news of Witiges’s coup d’etat (Witiges should have attacked Belisarius), Theodahad could have held Ravenna, had he not been assassinated...