Italy in the Twilight of the Empire: The Decline of Roman Law and Culture under Theoderic the Great (C. 493-526)

By Lafferty, Sean D. W. | Canadian Journal of History, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Italy in the Twilight of the Empire: The Decline of Roman Law and Culture under Theoderic the Great (C. 493-526)


Lafferty, Sean D. W., Canadian Journal of History


By the beginning of the sixth century Italy had long been in a period of decline. As early as the third century the peninsula was experiencing significant economic hardship--a situation brought about by the decreasing number of available manpower to work the land and the tendency of the state to over-tax in a bid to compensate for diminishing revenues. Economic decline was hastened by the barbarian invasions of the late fourth and fifth centuries, which had thoroughly and permanently overturned imperial political control in the other Roman provinces. By 476, the western Roman Empire had become unrecognizable as a political or territorial entity: nearly all its provinces had been occupied by barbarian forces, and its physical boundaries were reduced to the Italian peninsula. (1) Indeed, this was a Roman Empire in name alone, and so it was fitting that in this year the last western emperor, the aptly named Romulus Augustulus, was deposed by Odovacer, a general of Germanic extraction who in turn declared himself king. (2) Like Britain, France, Spain, and North Africa before it, Italy had degenerated into a barbarian kingdom. In 489 the peninsula was invaded by the Ostrogoths, whose king, Theoderic the Great, murdered Odovacer in 493 and ruled until his own death in 526. (3)

An important source for the social, political, and institutional history of Theoderic's rule in Italy is the Variae of the Roman statesman Cassiodorus, a collection in twelve books of 468 letters, proclamations, formulae for appointments, and edicts related to the Ostrogothic administration. (4) But inasmuch as it was intended as a semi-official record of the barbarian regime, the Variae was a product of political expediency that presents over three decades of Ostrogothic history, Theoderic's deeds in particular, in a rather flattering light. It was compiled in 537/8, towards the end of Cassiodorus's troubled service as Praetorian Prefect of Italy, while war was raging and the Ostrogothic king Witigis was besieging the Byzantine commander Belisarius in Rome. Its purpose was at once to instruct members of the Italian civil service through moral and religious exhortation, and to demonstrate their legitimacy and suitability for resuming palatine services following Justinian's reconquest of the peninsula. (5) Throughout, Cassiodorus deliberately glossed over disturbances (such as the downfall and execution of the philosopher Boethius in 524), and highlighted in deliberate fashion the perception of the order and civilitas--the civilized rule of law--associated with Ostrogothic rule. (6) At the same time, he emphasized a connection between the barbarian regime and the late imperial administration both in terms of ideology and organization. Theoderic, too, cultivated an image of himself as a barbarian king cut from the same purple cloth as great emperors of the past like Augustus and Trajan. (7) From all of this there emerges a highly civilized and Romanized picture of things--a picture that does not necessarily reflect conditions as they actually were, but rather as they were hoped for.

For Cassiodorus, in contrast to the preceding century--which witnessed decades of rivalry between ambitious generals, greedy aristocrats, and generally incompetent emperors, culminating in the deposition of Rome's last emperor and the seizure of power by the barbarian warlord Odovacer--Theoderic's reign was a veritable golden age of peace and posterity of a kind not experienced since the glory days of the early empire. In large part because of this assessment, modern historians have held a favourable opinion towards the age of Theoderic, treating it as a short interlude of Roman renewal, evoking both nostalgia for a peaceful and prosperous time and regret for the unavoidable fact that it was as fleeting and illusory as an Indian summer. (8) But the warmth of that summer is quickly cooled when we take into consideration evidence from the Edictum Theoderici (ET), a brief collection and emendation of Roman law that was composed at some point during Theoderic's reign. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Italy in the Twilight of the Empire: The Decline of Roman Law and Culture under Theoderic the Great (C. 493-526)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.