The Ostrogoths

As a contribution to this project we the history group of the 7C at the Europagymnasium in Klagenfurt Carinthia, the southernmost province of Austria, dealt with the presence of the Ostrogoths in Carinthia. Therefore we visited the exhibition in the Landesmuseum and looked for further information on this special topic.

To appreciate the life and achievements of Theodoric the Great the historical background has to be explained: Europe is in a state of chaos. The Germanic tribes are on the move as a result of the Hunnian attack in the 4th century AD. The tribe of the Goths splits into halves: the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths.

The Visigoths, who were under the rule of King Alaric, cross the southern Danube to Italy and plunder Rome in 410 AD. After that they found the Visigothian Empire in southern France (capital: Toulouse) and later move to Spain (capital: Toledo).

The Ostrogoths first settle in Pannonia, present-day Hungary. There Theodoric, son of the Ostrogothian King Theodomir, is born in 454 AD.

Theoderic’s life is highly influenced by a religious conflict, although it has been solved more than 100 years before: Arius taught Jesus’ nature was not equal to God. The council of Nikaia accepted the teaching of Athanasius that Jesus and God had the same nature. But the Germanic tribes continued believing in Arius’ teaching. Bishop Wulfila had translated the bible into the Gothic language and brought the Goths Christianity in the Arian version.

King of the Ostrogoths

Theodoric is a talented military leader. He often helps the Byzantinian Emperor Zeno in his conflicts. In the meantime the Germanic mercenary leader Odovaker defeats the last Western Roman Emperor Romulus Augustulus in 476 AD. He now declares himself King of Italy. But in the year 487 AD Zeno offers the Italian peninsula to Theodoric. Therefore the Ostrogothian leader starts a gigantic invasion. He begins his march into Italy in 488 AD with 300.000 men. In Italy he has to fight several battles against Odovaker. After massive casualties on both sides, Odovaker retreats to his capital Ravenna. The following battle is also known from the myth of Dietrich von Bern, the legendary Theodoric. It is called “Rabenschlacht”.

After a three yearlong siege of Ravenna the local Bishop mediates between Theodoric and Odovaker. But then at the reconciliation meal Theodoric kills Odovaker (in 493 AD). Theodoric now can call himself the only leader of Italy. He takes over the principal idea of Odovaker: allowing two different peoples to live next to each other in peace.

The Ostrogoths control the military, but the administration remains Roman. Italy encounters an economical boom. But close relationships between the Ostrogoths and the Romans are not possible due to a prohibition of marriages.

Theodoric makes the surrounding Germanic tribes allies through marriage policy. The most important tribes are the Vandals, Visigoths, Burgundians and the Franks. Due to the Arianic confession the interior of a baptistery and a cathedral in Ravenna are wonderfully covered by mosaics. The former palace church Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, really is culminating of mosaic art at the beginning of the 6th century.

From Theodoric’s last years his sepulcher is preserved. It is build out of huge blocks of limestone and represents the Ostrogothic style.

In the last years of Theodoric’s reign, he gets more and more mistrusting because the Eastern Roman Emperor Justin is against him (uses the religious conflict as an argument). In the end he is so mad, that he even kills his own adviser Boetius. Suddenly Theodoric dies and the development of myths begins.

The Ostrogoths in Carinthia

A few years ago a German archaeologist claimed that the presence of the Ostrogoths could yet neither be proved by historical sources nor by archaeological finds. The history of Carinthia mentions Celts, Lombards, Slavs and Bavarians but the Ostrogoths are missing. Due to the recent excavations of the grave field in Globasnitz and the discovery of the Arian church site on the Hemmaberg we have got an idea of Carintihan history, culture, art and architecture of nearly half a century, which was unknown until now. Our previous view of archaeological research was determined by settlements dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries that were situated in higher locations (such as mountains and hilltops) while settlements in valleys were unknown.

At the same time resting places for message transfer services were built in the valleys. Therefore the Ostrogothic soldiers were stationed there. Like in past centuries, the market where people traded goods from neighboring regions was also situated in the valley.

The dead from the grave field in Globasnitz were mostly buried separately lying on their backs. What was also found quite often were grave goods, but in one of the tombs in Globasnitz three dead were found, buried together: a young man with a skull injury, an old woman and over their legs there was another corpse. This dead body was discovered lying on his stomach. According to Professor Glaser, the leading archaeologist, this special position can be interpreted as a form of punishment for a crime because at the resurrection the criminal should not see the sky. Part of his skull, legs and upper arm had been chopped off before the funeral.

The Ostrogoths were also known for their method of skull bandaging which was practiced with babies very often to give their skulls a special shape.

Certain remains (artifacts) like coins, belts, bags and jewellery, most of them decorated with two eagles – a common sign of the Ostrogoths - were found as well.