Known for: ruler of the Ostrogoths, first as regent for her son
Dates: 498-535 (reigned 526-534)
Also known as: Amalasuentha, Amalasvintha, Amalasontha, Queen of the Goths, Queen of the Ostrogoths, Gothic Queen, Regent Queen
We have three sources for the details of Amalasuntha's life and rule: the histories of Procopius, the Gothic History of Jordanes (a summary version of a lost book by Cassiodorus), and the letters of Cassiodorus. All were written shortly after the Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy was defeated. Gregory of Tours, writing in the later 6th century, also mentions Amalasuntha.
Procopius' version of events, however, has many inconsistencies. In one account Procopius praises the virtue of Amalasuntha; in another, he accuses her of manipulation. In his version of this history, Procopius makes the Empress Theodora complicit in Amalasuntha's death -- but he is often focused on depicting the Empress as a great manipulator.
Background and Early Life:
Amalasuntha was the daughter of Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, who had taken power in Italy with the support of the eastern emperor. Her mother was Audofleda, whose brother, Clovis I, was the first king to unite the Franks, and whose wife, Saint Clotilde, is credited with bringing Clovis into the Roman Catholic Christian fold. Amalasuntha's cousins thus included the warring sons of Clovis and Clovis' daughter, also named Clotilde, who married Amalasuntha's half nephew, Amalaric of the Goths.
She was apparently well educated, speaking Latin, Greek, and Gothic fluently.
Marriage and Regency:
Amalasuntha was married to Eutharic, a Goth from Spain, who died in 522. They had two children; their son was Athalaric. When Theodoric died in 526, his heir was Amalasuntha's son Athalaric. Because Athalaric was only ten, Amalasuntha became regent for him.
After Athalaric's death while still a child, Amalasuntha joined forces with the next closest heir to the throne, her cousin Theodahad or Theodad (sometimes called her husband in accounts of her rule). With the advice and support of her minister Cassiodorus, who had also been advisor to her father, Amalasuntha seems to have continued a close relationship with the Byzantine emperor, now Justinian -- as when she permitted Justinian to use Sicily as a base for Belisarius' invasion of the Vandals in North Africa.
Opposition by the Ostrogoths:
Perhaps with Justinian's and Theodahad's support or manipulation, Ostrogoth nobles opposed Amalasuntha's policies. When her son was alive, these same opponents had protested her giving her son a Roman, classical education, and instead had insisted that he receive training as a soldier.
Eventually, the nobles rebelled against Amalasuntha, and exiled her to Bolsena in Tuscany in 534, ending her reign.
There, she was later strangled by relatives of some men she had earlier ordered killed. Her murder probably was undertaken with her cousin's approval -- Theodahad may have had reason to believe that Justinian wanted Amalasuntha removed from power.
The Gothic War:
But after Amalasuntha's murder, Justinian sent Belisarius to launch the Gothic War, retaking Italy and deposing Theodahad.
Amalasuntha also had a daughter, Matasuntha or Matasuentha (among other renderings of her name). She apparently married Witigus, who briefly reigned after Theodahad's death. She was then married to Justinian's nephew or cousin, Germanus, and was made a Patrician Ordinary.
Gregory of Tours, in his History of the Franks, mentions Amalasuntha, and tells a story, which is most likely not historical, of Amalasuntha eloping with a slave who was then killed by her mother's representatives, and then of Amalasuntha killing her mother by putting poison in her communion chalice.
Religion: Arian Christian
More About Amalasuntha:
- Frankforter, A. Daniel. "Amalasuntha, Procopius, and a Woman's Place," Journal of Women's History 8. Summer 1996, pp. 41-57.
- Amalasuentha in The Origin and Deeds of the Goths by Jordanes
- Procopius of Caesaria: The Secret History - an excerpt:
"How Theodora treated those who offended her will now be shown, though again I can give only a few instances, or obviously there would be no end to the demonstration.
"When Amasalontha decided to save her life by surrendering her queendom over the Goths and retiring to Constantinople (as I have related elsewhere), Theodora, reflecting that the lady was well-born and a Queen, more than easy to look at and a marvel at planning intrigues, became suspicious of her charms and audacity: and fearing her husband's fickleness, she became not a little jealous, and determined to ensnare the lady to her doom."
- Theodora - Byzantine Empress
- Justinian I - Who's Who in Medieval History
- Medieval and Renaissance Queens, Empresses, Rulers
- Medieval Women's History