Theodoric the Great
King of the Ostrogoths (474-526), King of Italy (493-526), King of the Goths (511-526)
Theodoric (Gothic Thiudareiks, meaning "King of the People")
was born in 454, a year after the Ostrogoths had thrown off nearly a
century of domination by the Huns. The son of the King Thiudimir,
Theodoric went to Constantinople as a young boy, as a hostage to secure
the Ostrogoths' compliance with a treaty Thiudimir had concluded with
the Byzantine Empire.
He lived at the court of Constantinople for many years and learned a great deal about Roman government and military tactics, which served him well when he became ruler of his people. Treated with favor by the Emperors Leo I and Zeno, he became imperial master of soldiers in 483 and one year later, he became a consul. Meanwhile, he returned to live among the Ostrogoths when he was in his early twenties, and was confirmed as their king in 488, a title he had nominally held since his father's death 14 years prior.
At the time, the Ostrogoths were settled in Byzantine territory as foederati (allies) of the Romans, but were becoming restless and increasingly difficult for Zeno to manage. Not long after Theodoric became king, the two men worked out an arrangement beneficial to both sides. The Ostrogoths needed a place to live, and Zeno was having serious problems with Odoacer, the King of Italy who had overthrown the western Roman Empire in 476. Ostensibly a viceroy for Zeno, Odoacer was menacing Byzantine territory and not respecting the rights of Roman citizens in Italy. At Zeno's encouragement, Theodoric invaded Odoacer's kingdom.
Theodoric came with his army to Italy in 488, where he won the battles at the Isonzo and at Milan in 489 and at the Adda in 490. In 493 he took Ravenna. Odoacer surrendered and was killed by Theodoric himself.
Like Odoacer, Theodoric was technically only a viceroy for the emperor in Constantinople. In reality, he was able to avoid imperial supervision, and dealings between the emperor and Theodoric were as equals. However, unlike Odoacer, Theodoric respected the agreement he had made and allowed Roman citizens within his kingdom to be subject to Roman law and the Roman judicial system. The Goths, meanwhile, lived under their own laws and customs.
Theodoric the Great was allied with the Franks by his marriage to Audofleda, sister of Clovis I, and with the Visigoths, Vandals and Burgundian kings. Clovis I's ambitions to also rule over the Goths brought on intermittent warfare between 506 and 523. In 507, the Franks wrested control of Aquitaine from the Visigoths and killed their king Alaric II in the process. Four years later, when Alaric's second son acceded to the throne as a boy, Theodoric was called in as regent and protector of the Visigothic kingdom. He thus became the first ruler of a unified Goth kingdom in centuries, and reigned over both the Ostrogoths and Visigoths for the rest of his life.
Theodoric had aspirations to restore the Roman Empire in the west, an
institution abolished by Odoacer in 476. However, his petition to Zeno to be
recognized as Emperor was refused because of his Germanic ancestry. He never did
achieve this dream, but in 511, the Emperor Anastasius returned the western
Imperial regalia to Theodoric, in effect recognizing him as regent for the
Theodoric was of Arian faith. At the end of his reign quarrels arose with his Roman subjects and the Byzantine emperor Justin I over the Arianism issue. Relations between the two nations deteriorated, although Theodoric's ability dissuaded the Byzantines from waging war against him. After his death, that reluctance faded quickly.
Theodoric the Great was interred in Ravenna. His tomb is one of the finest monuments in Ravenna.
After his death his daughter Amalasuntha reigned as regent for Theodoric's grandson Athalaric.
Dietrich von Bern in the German epic Nibelungenlied is based on Theodoric the Great.
Note: Some of you will notice this text is almost exactly the same as that in the Wikipedia. Before you accuse me of stealing from them, please be advised that 1) the Wikipedia is an open-source project; and 2) I wrote 80 percent of the original article on that site myself.