Reflecting Roman Empresses: Ostrogothic Royal Women in Sixth-Century Italy
This study examines royal women in the Ostrogothic monarchy which ruled over a Roman population in Italy from 493-540CE.1 Scholars have argued that Ostrogothic kings reconstructed the Roman Imperial monarchy by adopting characteristics associated with Roman emperors, thereby legitimising their rule to their Roman audience. This study instead asks what roles the female members of the monarchy played in this reconstruction of Roman Imperial power. Previously, scholars have dismissed the importance of Ostrogothic queens altogether or focused exclusively on Amalasuntha, queen regent from 526-535, with discourse centring on the feminine and masculine aspects of her character. This research studies all Ostrogothic royal women as a collective. By adopting Feminist definitions of power, this study analyses diplomatic correspondence collected by Cassiodorus and East-Roman narrative histories penned by Procopius to ascertain the roles Ostrogothic royal women played in the politics, family and ideology of the monarchy, thereby combining political and gender frameworks. Crucially this research compares these contemporary sources with histories and political speeches written about earlier Roman Imperial women, especially the females of the Julio-Claudian dynasty (c.27BCE-59CE) which first established the Roman Imperial monarchy. The overwhelming similarities in the roles, virtues and rhetorical stereotypes of both Ostrogothic queens and Roman empresses indicate that Cassiodorus and Procopius were influenced by and learned from Roman models of female power when depicting Ostrogothic queens. This demonstrates that Ostrogothic queens based their position on the Roman concepts of female power and communicated this to their Roman audiences to strengthen the Ostrogothic monarchy.