Wars of the Ostrogoths

489 to 553
Ostrogoths — versus — Odoacer's Kingdom of Italy, later the Eastern Empire

Rise of the Ostrogoths, 489-493 , Fall of the Ostrogoths, 535-553
Aftermath of Gothic War, 554-568

Rise of the Ostrogoths : 489-493

The rise of the Ostrogoth Kingdom of Italy was the work of Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths. The Ostrogoths were in service to the Eastern Emperor, and so in 489, with the support of Constantinople, Theodoric led a large army of Ostrogoths to attack Odoacer's Kingdom of Italy. Although successful in most of his battles against Odoacer, Theodoric ultimately resorted to treachery in order to make himself sole ruler, by first making a peace treaty with and then killing his rival. In spite of this inauspicious start, the reign of Theodoric, which lasted from 493 until his death in 526 was extremely successful and prosperous. He kept peace in Italy, and made alliances with the Visigoth and Frankish kingdoms in Spain and France. Having grown up as a hostage in the court at Constantinople, he was highly civilized, thoroughly Roman in manner, and preserved the best institutions of the empire. Although he had conquered Italy with the help of the eastern Empire, he governed independently.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Isonzo (Rise of Ostrogoths ) Ostrogoths victory
Fought Aug 28, 489 between and Italic-Germanic army under Odoacer and the Ostrogoths under Theodoric. The Ostrogoths were victorious.
Siege of Ravenna   Ostrogoths victory
The Italian king Odoacer was besieged in his capital for three years by Theodoric and his army of Ostrogoths. The siege ended on Feb 2, 493 when Theodoric and Odoacer signed a treaty to co-rule Italy. Odoacer was killed by Theodoric at a banquet shortly thereafter.

Short Biography
Odoacer Deposed last Roman Emperor and became King of Italy. Later overthrown by Theodoric the Ostrogoth.
Theodoric the Ostrogoth Ostrogoth king who invaded Italy and successfully formed a Gothic-Roman kingdom.

Story Links
Book Links
Theodoric the Ostrogoth  in  Famous Men of the Middle Ages  by  John H. Haaren
Theodoric  in  Barbarian and Noble  by  Marion Florence Lansing
Goth against Goth  in  Barbarian and Noble  by  Marion Florence Lansing
Theodoric the Ostrogoth Becomes Ruler of Italy  in  European Hero Stories  by  Eva March Tappan

Fall of the Ostrogoths : 535-553

By 533 Belisarius, the great general of Justinian, had established peace on the eastern borders of the empire, and had also reconquered the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa. In an effort to restore the Roman empire to its old glory, Justinian sent an army to reconquer Italy from the Ostrogoths. His pretext for the invasion was the assassination of an heir to the throne of the Ostrogoths, who had been an ally of Constantinople. The wars that followed for the next fifteen years are known as the 'Gothic Wars' and were a disaster for Italy. Although the Imperial army, led by Justinian's famous general Belisarius, had early victories—first taking Sicily, Rhegium, and Rome, and then two years later, taking Ravenna, the Gothic capital,—the Ostrogoths did not surrender. Instead they raised Totila, to the throne and renewed their offensive against the conquerors. Much of the territory that was taken by Belisarius, was retaken by Totila as soon as the former was recalled to Constantinople. Finally Justinian sent another army against the Ostrogoths, and finally destroyed them, but not until much of Italy had been laid to waste, and may of its major towns depopulated.

DateBattle Summary
Siege of Rome (Fall of Ostrogoths ) Byzantines victory
In March, 537, the city was besieged by the Goths, under Vitiges, and defended by Belisarius. After a determined resistance, during which a vigorous assault was repulsed, and several successful sorties made, with heavy loss to the besiegers, Vitiges in March, 538, was compelled to raise the siege.
Siege of Ravenna (Fall of Ostrogoths ) Byzantines victory
This city, the Ostrogoth capital, was besieged by imperial forces under Belisarius. The Goths offered to make Belisarius the western emperor, but he refused, and eventually took the capital. Witigis, king of the Ostrogoths was taken captive to Constantinople.
Battle of Faenza (Fall of Ostrogoths ) Ostrogoths victory
Fought 541, between 20,000 Roman legionaries, and the Goths under Totila, King of Italy. The Romans made no attempt to resist the onslaught of the Goths, but throwing down their arms fled ignominiously, giving the Goths an easy victory.
Siege of Rome (Fall of Ostrogoths ) drawn battle victory
In May, 546, Totila, King of Italy, at the head of an army of Goths, laid siege to Rome, which was defended by a garrison of 3,000, under Bassas. An attempt to relieve it by Belisarius was on the point of success, but Bassas failed to co-operate with the relieving force, and Belisarius was forced to retire, whereupon the city surrendered, December 17, 546. It was recovered by Belisarius in the following February, but was again besieged by Totila in 549. On this occasion it was defended by a garrison of 3,000 troops, under Demetrius, who, aided by the inhabitants, made a gallant resistance, but the Gate of St. Paul was opened to the besiegers by some Isaurian sympathisers within the walls, and Totila thus made himself master of the last Italian city excepting Ravenna, which had resisted his victorious army. In 552, after the defeat of Totila at Tagina, Rome was invested by the Imperial army, under Narses, who, after a brief siege, stormed the defenses, and finally delivered the city from the Gothic domination.
Battle of Tagina (Fall of Ostrogoths ) Byzantines victory
Fought July, 552, between the Goths, under Totila, King of Italy, and 30,000 Imperial troops, under Narses. The Romans withstood the charge of the Goths, broke their cavalry, and then drove their infantry from the field, with a loss of about 6,000. Totila was overtaken and slain in the pursuit.
Battle of Mount Lactarius (Fall of Ostrogoths ) Byzantines victory
Fought March 553, between the troops of the Emperor Justinian, under Narses, and the Goths, under Teias, the last Gothic king of Italy. The Romans gained a signal victory, and Teias was slain, the Goths thereupon accepting the rule of Justinian.

Short Biography
Totila Raised to be king of Ostrogoths, after Witiges was captured. Tried to take back Italy from Byzantines.
Belisarius General associated with Julian the Great, reconquered much of lost Roman territory.
Narses General of the Eastern Empire, under Justinian. Made governor in Italy after departure of Belisarius.

Story Links
Book Links

Aftermath of Gothic War : 554-568

Worse yet, the ravages of the Gothic war left Italy vulnerable to invasion from other, less civilized Germanic tribes from the North. Shortly after the final victory of the Eastern Empire over the Goths, a large army of Franks and Alemanni descended on Northern Italy, but were driven back by Imperial forces. A decade later, however, all of Northern Italy fell to the Lombards, a Germanic tribe far more barbarous than then either the Ostrogoths or Franks, and the exhausted Byzantines were powerless to protect it. The Lombards made Pavia their capital, and the Lombard Kingdom of Northern Italy lasted for over 200 years until it was conquered by Charlemagne.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Volturnus (Rise of Ostrogoths ) Byzantines victory
Fought 554, between 18,000 Imperial troops under Narses, and the Franks and Alemanni, 30,000 strong, under Buccelin. The Romans won a signal victory, and are said by the chroniclers to have exterminated the invading army with a loss to themselves of 80 only. Buccelin fell in the battle.
Siege of Pavia (Fall of Ostrogoths ) Lombards victory
This city was besieged in 568 by the Lombards, under Alboin, and after a gallant defense, lasting over three years, was at last subdued, rather by famine than by force of arms, and surrendered to the besiegers. Pavia then became the capital of the Lombard kingdom of Italy.

Short Biography
Buccelin Frankish general who led invasion into Italy shortly after the Gothic War.
Alboin King of the Lombards who crossed the Alps and invaded Northern Italy. Made Pavia capital of Lombards.

Story Links
Book Links
Albion and Rosamond  in  Historical Tales: German  by  Charles Morris

Image Links

Do not show yourself, he said, 'but harken.'
 in A Child's Book of Warriors

Belisarius besieges Ravenna
 in Famous Men of the Middle Ages

The Last of the Goths Leaving Italy
 in Greatest Nations - Rome

Alboin's Entrance into Pavia
 in Greatest Nations - Rome

Theodoric the Ostrogoth
 in Barbarian and Noble

Kings doing homage to Theodoric
 in Barbarian and Noble