Roman Empire, Athalaric - Grandson of Theoderic 'the Great'

Article Image

Athalaric was the grandson of Theoderic 'the Great', who had been ordered by the Eastern emperor Zeno to overthrow Odoacer, the barbarian self-styled King of Italy who finally brought the Western Roman Empire to an end by deposing Romulus Augustus.

While Theoderic had promoted the separation of Arian and Roman peoples (and forbidding intermarriage), he stressed the importance of racial harmony, and did much to preserve Roman culture. Seeking to restore some of the lost glory of Rome, Theoderic ruled Italy for its most peaceful and prosperous period since Valentinian I more than a century earlier, until his death in 526.

Theoderic died with no male children. His daughter Amalasuntha had received a Roman education, and he had selected as her husband Eutharic, an Ostrogoth of royal lineage who was living obscurely in Spain. The marriage was celebrated in AD. 515, and Athalaric was born three years later. Theoderic destined this infant to be his successor.

Athalaric had received a Roman education, and upon the death of his grandfather, he ascended to the throne of Italy at the age of ten. His mother Amalasuntha held the reins of government as regent during her son's minority, though the Gothic nobles soon insisted on Athalaric being brought up in the ways of his own people. However Athalaric was of a weak and degenerate nature, and the Gothic youths with whom he associated soon led him into precocious debauchery which ruined his health. He died in 534 at the age of eighteen.

Now queen, Amalasuntha made her cousin Theodahad partner of her throne with the intent of strengthening her position. Theodahad however, fostered the disaffection of the Goths and ensured that Amalasuntha was imprisoned on the island of Martana in lake Bolsena, where shortly thereafter she was murdered in her bath.

Ostrogoths, Athalaric Æ 20 Nummi. Municipal coinage of Rome, AD 526-534. INVICTA ROMA, draped bust of Roma to right, wearing crested helmet, pendant earring and necklace / She-wolf standing to left, head turned back to watch the two infants Romulus and Remus suckling; two stars flanking Chi-Rho above, mark of value XX below. Hahn, MIB 71c (Theoderich); Kraus 29; Metlich 84b. 6.64g, 19mm, 6h.

Good Extremely Fine. Very Rare, and one of the very finest surviving coins from the reign of Athalaric. An exceptional example of the type, struck from dies of what may almost be described as fine classical style.