Greatest leader of the Ostrogoths, and the king of Italy from 493 to 526. He is known to mediaeval German romance as Dietrich von Bern.

He was born in 455, while the Ostrogoths were mobile on the boundaries of the Roman Empire. They had just moved into Macedonia when he became king in 475. In the following year, the barbarian Odoacer dethroned the last emperor of the West, resident in Ravenna, the puppet Romulus Augustulus. With this Odoacer effectively extinguished the Western Roman Empire and became the first king of Italy.

The Byzantine emperor Zeno the Isaurian invited the Ostrogoths to move into Italy against Odoacer (and coincidentally out of his own back yard near Constantinople). Theodoric, invested with the title of magister militum (master of soldiers), invaded Italy in 489 with a force of 250 000 and defeated Odoacer in a series of battles, culminating in a siege of Ravenna in 491-3. Odoacer finally capitulated, and Theodoric personally killed him.

Theodoric was an Arian but tolerated both Catholics and Jews, with their laws and rituals freely allowed; the Gothic and Roman nations existed side by side. He was in most things a good ruler, but his final years are horribly disfigured by the imprisonment and execution of Boethius, the greatest intellectual of the century.

He is also spelt Theoderic, and is commonly known as Theodoric the Great. He was succeeded in 526 by his grandson Athalaric, who was one of several very short-reigning kings until the Byzantine general Belisarius reconquered Italy in 552.

There were also two kings of the Visigoths by this name. Theodoric I was king from 418 to 451, and switched allegiance between the Vandals and the Romans. He was killed holding back the advance of Attila the Hun. His son Theodoric II was king from 453 to 466: he got his throne by murdering his predecessor and lost it by being murdered by his brother Euric. In between he tried to be a power-broker in the Roman empire, marched into Rome with the rebel emperor Avitus, and was defeated by the Romans at Orleans.

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