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Historical Article

Ostrogoths. Theodahad - Final Roman Sestertius



Theodahad inherited the Gothic kingdom after the death of Athalaric, the immediate successor of Theodoric the Great (471-526), who had increased the small Gothic tribal lands in Pannonia to encompass an empire stretching all the way to Spain. Theodahad had not intended to inherit the kingdom, instead being content ruling over a fief that extended over much of Etruria, and indulging in a love for the arts and learning of the fading Classical world. But Amalasuntha, Theodoric's daughter and surviving member of the dynasty, was unable to rule in her own right and required her cousin at her side. It was a poor choice. In the succinct words of Warwick Wroth, Theodahad proved to be "vacillating, cowardly and avaricious". And ungrateful - in 535 he ordered Amalasuntha arrested and sent into exile. The queen had protected Byzantine rights in Italy, and her deposition provided Justinian with the perfect pretext for undertaking the re-conquest of the peninsula. Theodahad frantically tried to appease the emperor, offering fulsome apologies for his conduct, and promising to cede authority over Italy to Constantinople. This only served to aggravate the Ostrogothic nobles, who promptly elected Witigis as the new king. Theodahad was murdered in December 536 while trying to reach refuge in Ravenna. Theodahad was a supremely incompetent ruler, but his immersion in classical learning saw embodiment in his bronze coinage. His helmeted bust on his 40 nummi pieces, while entirely Gothic in detail, is rendered with a precision and life-like accuracy fully in keeping with second century imperial portraiture, and the victory reverse harkens back to numerous propaganda sestertii of the early empire. And as is so often the case, the stronger the emphasis on royal might and military prowess, the weaker the vessel that bears them.

OSTROGOTHS. Theodahad. 534-536 AD. Æ Follis [40 Nummi] (12.17 gm, 7h). Rome mint. D N THEO-DAHATVS REX, moustached and mantled bust right, wearing ornate Spangenhelm; mantle decorated with pectoral cross / VICTORIA PRINCIPVM, S C across field, Victory standing right on prow of galley, holding palm across left shoulder and wreath in outstretched right hand. COI 1c (B1-L3; this coin); L. Cuppo Csaki, "The Copper Coinage of Theodahad: A Reappraisal," Proceedings of the 11th International Numismatic Congress (Brussels, 1997), pg. 33; MIB I 81; BMC Vandals pg. 76, 22 (same obverse die); MEC 1, 141-143 .