The Ostrogoths were one of the most important Germanic tribes. They split from the Goths in the third century, and were active as a distinct group until absorbed into the Italian people in the sixth century C.E. Much of Ostrogothic history is bound up with that of the Roman empire, whom they fought both for and against at various times and with whom they conducted substantial trade. They were probably literate early on in their history.
According to Ostrogothic tradition, the ancestors of the Goths were the Gotar of southern Sweden. They moved southward, as many other Germanic tribes were believed to do, until they settled in the territory north of the Black Sea. It was evidently there that they split into two groups: the East Goths, or Ostrogoths, who settled in the Ukraine, and the West Goths, or Visigoths, who moved west of them. This interpretation of their origins has been disputed but not yet completely disproven. Much archaeological work has been done near Kiev, but though many Ostrogothic graves have been excavated there, there is still very little known about their society.
The Ostrogothic kingdom established in the Ukraine was conquered by the Huns at around 370. At the time they had been led by King Ermanaric, under whom the kingdom is believed to have reached its greatest extent and prosperity. When the Huns attacked, it is said that Ermanaric was an old man who couldn't fend off the invaders, and he killed himself in dispair. The Ostrogothic people were subject to the conquering Huns until the death of Attila in 453 C.E.
In the mid- to late-fifth century, some of the Ostrogoths appear to have settled in Pannonia (present-day Hungary, more or less), where they were federates of the Eastern Roman Empire. However, a few remained in the Crimea; these Crimean Ostrogoths preserved their identity through the medieval era.
In 471, the western faction of Ostrogoths chose Theodoric the Great as their king. An aggressive military commander, Theodoric made a useful ally for the Byzantine emperor, Zeno, who put him to work invading Italy and taking control away from Odoacer. Theodoric not only successfully conquered Italy, he killed Odoacer and set up his own Ostrogothic kingdom on the Italian peninsula.
Theodoric reigned for about 30 years and had some influence on international events, including some interference with the papacy. Upon his death, his daughter Amalasuntha served as regent for her son Athalric, and to fend off rival Ostrogothic claimants, she put herself in the protection of Byzantine Emperor Justinian. But she was murdered, and Justinian used the event as an excuse to send General Belisarius to attempt to conquer Italy. This he came close to doing before he was recalled to Constantinople; and upon his departure, the Ostrogoths regrouped and rebelled under Totila.
In 552, General Narses of Eastern Rome defeated Totila, who was killed in battle. This marked the end of the Ostrogothic kingdom and the hegemony of the Ostrogoths.
Common Misspellings: Ostragoths