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The Ostrogothic Military

The Ostrogothic Military

By Guy Halsall

A Companion to Ostrogothic Italy, eds. Jonathan Arnold, Shane Bjornlie, and Kristina Sessa (Brill, 2016)

Shield boss from the Warrior’s Grave of Boffalora d’Adda – photo by James Steakley / Wikimedia Commons

Abstract: This chapter explores the place of the army and military organisation within the Ostrogothic kingdom. It is divided into three chronological phases: the conquest, the kingdom of Italy, and the Gothic Wars. Whether the Ostrogoths themselves were an army, the nature of the army’s settlement and salary in Italy, and ethnic identity’s role in the formation of the army are all discussed. The army itself has rarely been studied as a separate institution, which may be because, throughout the Ostrogothic kingdom’s short life, the military was inextricably bound up with the nature and the fate of that polity.

Introduction: The Ostrogothic Kingdom was created and destroyed by conquest and the army remained a central feature of its politics and society. Discussing military affairs in Gothic Italy therefore requires attending to seemingly unmilitary issues like the settlement and its nature, and the kingdom’s ethnic politics, which have been the focus of sometimes fierce recent debate.

This chapter is organised according to three main chronological phases: the period of the conquest; Theoderic’s reign as king of Italy; and finally the Gothic wars. This permits examination of change, as well as allowing the analysis of issues specific to each sub-period. Although the Ostrogothic Italian kingdom endured for only three generations, we must remember that Theoderic’s was a long reign by any standards. The troops who accompanied him across the Isonzo in 489 were very different from those undertaking the military operations of his last years and entirely unlike those of the Gothic Wars.

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