Ostrogoths

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Ostrogoths

Ostrogoths (East Goths), division of the Goths, one of the most important groups of the Germans. According to their own unproven tradition, the ancestors of the Goths were the Gotar of S Sweden. By the 3d cent. AD, the Goths settled in the region N of the Black Sea. They split into two divisions, their names reflecting the areas in which they settled; the Ostrogoths settled in Ukraine, while the Visigoths, or West Goths, moved further west of them. By c.375 the Huns conquered the Ostrogothic kingdom ruled by Ermanaric, which extended from the Dniester River, north and east to the headwaters of the Volga River. The Ostrogoths were subject to the Huns until the death (453) of Attila, when they settled in Pannonia (roughly modern Hungary) as allies of the Byzantine (East Roman) empire. The Ostrogoths, who had long elected their rulers, chose (471) Theodoric the Great as king. A turbulent ally, the Byzantine emperor, Zeno, commissioned Theodoric to reconquer Italy from Odoacer. The Ostrogoths entered Italy in 488, defeated and slew (493) Odoacer, and set up the Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy, with Ravenna as their capital. After Theodoric's death (526) his daughter Amalasuntha was regent for her son Athalric. She placed herself under the protection of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. Her murder (535) served as pretext for Justinian to send Belisarius to reconquer Italy. He crushed the Ostrogothic kingdom, but on his recall (541) the Ostrogoths rebelled under the leadership of Totila. In 552 the Byzantine general Narses defeated Totila, who fell in battle. As a result, the Ostrogoths lost their national identity, and the hegemony over Italy passed to Byzantium and shortly afterward to the Lombards. Under the Ostrogothic kings, the culture of late antiquity was revived by Boethius and Cassiodorus; Dionysius Exiguus compiled church law; and Saint Benedict laid the basis of Western monasticism. Roman law and institutions were for the most part maintained; however, the Ostrogoths were resented as aliens by the Italians, from whom they differed not only in culture but also in religion, since they were Arians.

See T. Hodgkin, Italy and Her Invaders, Vol. I–III (2d ed. 1892–96, repr. 1967); T. S. Burns A History of the Ostrogoths (1984).

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