Theodoric I, was King of the Visigoths from 418 to 451. Theodoric I was the son or, more likely, the son-in-law, of Alaric I. He was elected king at a general meeting of his people. The very fact of the long reign of Theodoric I indicates that he was able to maneuver between both factions of his people. On the one hand, he was sufficiently hostile to Rome. On the other hand, he managed to pacify the Visigothic nobility and strengthen its position as an agricultural aristocracy and ruling class. What we know about his activities shows that he treated Rome with selective and cautious hostility. In the years of his reign, the Visigoths were still considerably inferior to the Romans in military power, and Theodoric never made an attack on Roman territory without first ascertaining that the Romans were busy elsewhere.
The coming to power of Theodoric in time coincides with the colonization of the Visigoths of the province of Aquitaine and the border parts of neighboring provinces. Apparently, at first, the Visigothic tribe was completely occupied with the development of these lands, since the first mention of the Visigoths reappears in sources only in 422. This year, together with the Roman general Kastin, they opposed the vandals who settled in Betik. When the victory was close, the Goths struck their allies in the rear, and the Romans suffered a devastating defeat. The order for this was probably given by Theodoric himself. Be that as it may, there was no consequence for this treason.
Wars for Access to the Mediterranean Sea
The most important feature that determined Visigothic policy during the following decades was the desire to gain access to the Mediterranean, which at first was expressed in attempts to capture the cities of Arles and Narbonne. When, after the death of Honorius in 423, the imperial throne was usurped. Theodoric I used this distemper to expand the boundaries of his state. Under the guise of protecting the legitimate sovereign against the usurper, he attacked Arles, the most important city in all seven Gallic provinces, the site of the annual gathering of the spiritual and secular notables of Gaul, the key to the Rhone Valley. Theodoric besieged him, but the attack failed.
In 427, the Goths fought against the enemies of the empire in Spain, but soon after, using the war of Rome with the Franks, the Visigoths repeated the attempt to capture Arles (430). The new attack on Arles was again repulsed by Aetius, and the commander of the Visigoths was captured by the Romans and his soldiers were killed. Although, it is possible that this Visigothic detachment acted independently of King Theodoric I and without his explicit approval.
In 436, when the imperial forces were engaged in the struggle against the Burgundians and Bajorans in Armorica, Theodoric used the opportunity to get rid of his dangerous adversary, Aetius, having entered into an alliance with the ruler of Africa, Boniface, who tried to wrest from Aetius primacy in the Western empire, and tried to seize Narbonne. He himself led the army on Narbonne, where he remained until 437, successfully besieging the city.
Foreign and Domestic Policy of Theodoric I
The Western Roman Empire swiftly rolled to its decline. Despite the constant violations of the Treaty of 418 by the Visigoths, they formally remained allies of Rome. However, the return and preservation of the status quo in relations with the barbarians became the limit of the Romans’ ambition. During almost the entire reign of Theodoric, the Visigoths were considered federates, recognizing the supreme authority of the emperor and subject to conscription for the military service of Rome. For all this time, they rendered military assistance to Rome only three or four times, but the Romans never conducted military operations against the Visigoths, except for defensive ones, when they first attacked the towns in the Rhone valley.
Theoderic aspired to broader goals in the foreign policy sphere. He betrothed one of his daughters to Hunerich, the son of the king of vandals of Heiserich. The point of this marriage/political union could only be directed against Rome. A joint effort by the Visigoths and Vandals could then inflict the final fatal blow on the empire.
Invasion of the Huns
Relations with Rome remained tense. The Roman commander Aetius relied on Hun mercenaries in order to maintain maximum independence from the Visigoths. Soon, the Visigothic king had to think about the alliance with the empire, since the wild Hunnish horde was approaching from the east, threatening to wipe out the entire cultural Christian world. Honoria, the daughter of Galla Placidia and the sister of Emperor Valentinian III, who was forced to give a vow of eternal virginity, wanted to marry the king of the Huns, Attila, who afterward demanded half of the empire for a dowry. Then, when his claims were rejected, Attila tried to push the Visigoths and the Romans.
Aetius, in order to be equal to the ferocious and innumerable hordes of the Huns and their allies, gathered warriors from all the peoples who lived at that time in Gaul. In addition to the Romans and Visigoths, he had auxiliary detachments of the Rhine Francs, Breton, Sarmatian and Germanic Letts, Burgundians, and Gallic Saxons. They included the Orleans Alans under the leadership of their king.
Death of Theodoric
July 15, 451, on the Catalan, or rather in the Mauriac fields, a great battle took place. Attila’s army, despite success at the center of their positions, where they greatly pressed the Alans, Franks, Burgundians and other allies of Aetius, was flanked by the Visigoths, and retreated in disorder to its fortified camp. Night came, saving their situation. Although none of the warring parties won the final victory, this historical battle dispelled the myth of Attila’s invincibility.
The aged Theodoric fell fighting bravely leading of his warriors. Theodoric reigned for 33 years. He substantially strengthened the royal authority. After his death, sources no longer report anything about the election of a king.
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