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

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

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

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


In this book, Massimiliano Vitiello situates the life and career of the Ostrogothic queen Amalasuintha (c. 494/5-535), daughter of Theoderic the Great, in the context of the transitional time, after the fall of Rome, during which new dynastic regimes were experimenting with various forms of political legitimation. A member of the Gothic elite raised in the Romanized palace of Ravenna, Amalasuintha married her father's chosen successor and was set to become a traditional Gothic queen--a helpmate and advisor to her husband, the Visigothic prince Eutharic--with no formal political role of her own. But her early widowhood and the subsequent death of her father threw her into a position unprecedented in the Gothic world: a regent mother who assumed control of the government.

During her regency, Amalasuintha clashed with a conservative Gothic aristocracy who resisted her leadership, garnered support among her Roman and pro-Roman subjects, defended Italy from the ambitions of other kings, and negotiated the expansionistic designs of Justinian and Theodora. When her son died unexpectedly at a young age, she undertook her most dangerous political enterprise: forming an unmarried coregency with her cousin, Theodahad, whom she raised to the throne. His final betrayal would cost Amalasuintha her rule and her life.

Vitiello argues that Amalasuintha's story reveals a key phase in the transformation of queenship in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, a time in which royal women slowly began exercising political power. Assessing the ancient sources for Amalasuintha's biography, Cassiodorus, Procopius, Gregory of Tours, and Jordanes, Vitiello demonstrates the ways in which her life and public image show the influence of late Roman and Byzantine imperial models on the formation of female political power in the post-Roman world.


In 1733 Carlo Goldoni presented his first play in Milan, a tragedy with the title Amalasunta. the work was critiqued so harshly that the author, despairing, finally threw it into the fireplace, and Amalasunta turned out to be the tragedy of a tragedy. Popular legends about Amalasuintha’s fate in beautiful Lake Bolsena are plentiful. Still today, the fishermen claim that during the windy days of the tramontana they can hear the wailing of the Gothic queen, her desperate cries coming from the small lake island of Martana, where she is believed to have spent the last days of her life. the northern wind that encourages the little waves whispers this melancholy story over and over again to the people of Marta, the small village that lies just southeast of the island. Almost fifteen hundred years after her death, Amalasuintha’s last days still echo on Lake Bolsena, between the little island and the still waters that surround it.

If much of this tragic, literary Amalasuintha is the stuff of legend, the woman herself was certainly real. Queen Amalasuintha was one of the most significant women of power in her day. She was the daughter of Theoderic the Great, the Gothic king and hero who defeated Odovacer and made Italy his kingdom. Her portrait is preserved not on mosaics but rather in some letters of Cassiodorus and in the histories of Procopius of Caesarea. Over the past century, the queen has become the object of scholarly interest as a political figure. More recently, her life story has attracted the attention of gender historians. But direct evidence is sparse, so she has usually been discussed in single entries in encyclopedias and occasionally in articles. While some scholars have attempted more comprehensive studies, no scholarly monograph has been devoted to Amalasuintha. Ginetti’s 1901 study focused on religious policy and the administration of Italy in the years 526–535 (Il governo di Amalasunta e la Chiesa di Roma). Almost a century later, Craddock’s master’s thesis, “Amalasuintha: Ostrogothic Successor A.D. 526–535” (1996), unfortunately never developed into a book. Sirago’s brief narrative book Amalasunta:

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