Amalasuntha ruled Rome following the famous fall of the Western Roman empire. She is known for being a wise leader of the Ostrogoths, first as regent, then as the ruling monarch. If Amalasuntha’s birth date was ever recorded, we’ve certainly lost it by now, so we have to be happy with our estimate of her being born around the year 495. She was the daughter of Theoderic the Great, King of the Ostrogothic Kingdom, which ruled over the Italian Peninsula after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476. Of course, there was still an Eastern Roman Empire, which will become important later.
Her mother, Audofleda, was also related to a man who helped pull Europe back together after the fall of the west. Audofleda’s brother was Clovis I, who was the first to unite the Frankish tribes under one ruler. Audofleda and Theoderic married around 493 and had three daughters, of whom Amalasuntha was the eldest. Through her mother, Amalasuntha’s cousins would be the constantly-warring Frankish kings.
She seems to have been well educated with an interest in philosophy and to have spoken Greek, Latin, and Gothic fluently. She was, like most Ostrogoths of the time, an Arian Christian. Amalasuntha was described as having all the virtues of a Roman noblewoman—fertility and patience, though she was mostly noted for her wise rule.
Amalasuntha was married to Eutharic, an Ostrogothic noble from Spain who was a great-grandson of a king of the Visigoths. Together they had two children, a son named Athalaric and a daughter named Matasuntha. He died early on in their marriage. A few years later, Amalasuntha’s father also died, leaving his throne to her son. Amalasuntha ruled as regent for her ten-year-old son until his death in 534.
Little changes occurred, as Amalasuntha was still the power in the country. He was only around eighteen years old. Amalasuntha had raised him like a Roman and kept good relations with the Eastern Roman Empire throughout her time as regent. Remember that. With the support of her cousin, Theodahad, she made herself Queen of the Ostrogoths. She ruled alone at first but later made Theodahad her co-ruler. He is sometimes called her husband, but this is probably not true, as his wife was still alive while he was ruling.
Amalasuntha was a close ally of Justinian, the Eastern Roman Emperor and then undisputed Emperor of Rome since the Holy Roman Empire wasn’t around yet. He was Emperor of Rome though he did not hold the city itself. He couldn’t just declare war on his close ally, Amalasuntha, though.
However, Theodahad proved Amalasuntha’s greatest problem, and also Justinian’s excuse to try to take back Italy. He was a high-ranking figure in the military, which was not fond of Amalasuntha’s friendliness with those who were waiting for a chance to conquer their kingdom. Procopius, the man who gave us much of our information about Justinian, wrote that he was certain that Queen Amalasuntha was even willing to just hand over her kingdom to the Romans.
The nobles, probably encouraged by Theodahad or maybe even Justinian (who needed an excuse to invade), rose up against their Queen and imprisoned her on the island of Martana. She was later strangled in her bath by relatives of some men she had executed, in 535. Amalasuntha was only around thirty years old and had reigned for just a year.
Theodahad must have thought that all his problems were solved, now that he was the sole king of the Ostrogoths with no Roman influence. He couldn’t have been more wrong. After the death of his close ally, Emperor Justinian finally had an excuse to invade Italy. He sent his best general, the one who had reconquered North Africa, to go conquer the peninsula. Conquer it he did, initially doing very well in the campaign, though he would not ultimately succeed. Meanwhile, Amalasuntha’s daughter married a man who ended up deposing and murdering Theodahad. After that, Amalasuntha’s daughter married a Roman general. So everything worked out for our Queen in the end.