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Letters of Theodoric [r.493-526]

These letters were written for Theodoric, the most Romanized of Germanic kings, by his secretary Cassiodorus. Theodoric strove to preserve the civilization he knew well, for he had grown up as a younh hostage in Constantinople.

King Theodoric to Maximian, Vir Illustris; and Andreas, Vir Spectabilis

If the people of Rome will beautify their city we will help them.

Institute a strict audit (of which no one need be ashamed) of the money given by us to the different workmen for the beautification of the City. See that we are receiving money's worth for the money spent. If there is embezzlement anywhere, cause the funds so embezzled to be disgorged. We expect the Romans to help from their own resources in this patriotic work, and certainly not to intercept our contributions for the purpose.

The wandering birds love theirown nests; the beasts haste to their own lodgings in the brake; the voluptuous fish, roaming the fields of ocean, returns to its own well-known cavern. How much more should Rome be loved by her children!


King Theodoric to Faustus, Praepositus

It should be only the surplus of the crops of any Province, beyond what is needed for the supply of its own wants, that should be exported. Station persons in the harbours to see that foreign ships do not take away produce to foreign shores until the Public Providers have got all that they require.


King Theodoric to Suna, Vir Illustris and Comes

Let nothing lie useless which may rebound to the beauty of the City. Let your illustrious Magnificence therefore cause the blocks of marble which are everywhere lying about in ruins to be wrought up into the walls by the hands of the workmen whom I send herewith. Only take care to use only those stones which have really fallen from pubic buildings, as we do not wish to appropriate private property, even for the glorification of the City.


King Theodoric to the Senate of the City of Rome

We hear with sorrow, by the report of the Provincial judges, that you the Fathers of the State, who ought to set an example to your sons (the ordinary citizens), have been so remiss in the payment of taxes that on this first collection nothing, or next to nothing, has been brought in from any Senatorial house. Thus a crushing weight has fallen on the lower orders, who have had to make good your deficiencies and have been distraught by the violence of the tax gatherers.

Now then, oh Conscript Fathers, who owe as much duty to the Republic as we do, pay the taxes for which each of you is liable, to the Procurators appointed in each Province, by three installments. Or, if you prefer to do so-and it used to be accounted a privilege pay all at once into the chest of the Vicarius. And let this following edict be published, that all the Provincials may know that they are not to be imposed upon and that they are invited to state their grievances.


King Theodoric to Colossaeus, Vir Illustris and Comes

We delight to entrust our mandates to persons of approved character.

We are sending you with the dignity of the illustrious belt to Pannonia Sirmiensis, an old habitation of the Goths. Let that Province be induced to welcome her old defenders, even as she used gladly to obey our ancestors. Show forth the justice of the Goths, a nation happily situated for praise, since it is theirs to unite the forethought of the Romans and the virtue of the Barbarians. Remove all ill planted customs, and impress upon all your subordinates that we would rather that our Treasury lost a suit than that it gained one wrongfully, rather that we lost money than the taxpayer was driven to suicide.

*** King Theodoric to Unigis, the Sword-Bearer

We delight to live after the law of the Romans, whom we seek to defend with our arms; and we are as much interested in the maintenance of morality as we can possibly be in war. For what profit is there in having removed the turmoil of the Barbarians, unless we live according to law? ... Let other kings desire the glory of battles won, of cities taken, of ruins made; our purpose is, God helping us, so to rule that our subjects should grieve that they did not earlier acquire the blessings of our domain

*** King Theodoric to All the Jews of Genoa

...We cannot command the religion of our subjects, since no-one can be forced to believe against his will.


From Letters of Cassiodorus, Thomas Hodgkin, trans. (London: H. Frowde, 1886), pp.156-219.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

(c)Paul Halsall Feb 1996
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© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 5 June 2023 [CV]