(c. 490-c. 585)
   One of the great scholars of late antiquity, Cassiodorus, in full Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus, wrote one of the most influential works on later barbarian Europe and, like, the senator and scholar Boethius, was an important advisor to the Ostrogothic king of Italy, Theodoric the Great. Like Boethius, Cassiodorus came from a prominent noble family and rose through the ranks of government. He held numerous high offices and was secretary to Theodoric. Unlike Boethius, he left government service to dedicate himself to letters and the religious life. He founded a monastery, Vivarium, where he spent the end of his life quietly and wrote one of the great classics of sacred learning. He also wrote works of history and theology and encouraged his monks to copy important manuscripts. His influence lasted long beyond his long life; his great library was dispersed, benefiting many later scholars, including the great Anglo-Saxon scholar of the eighth century, the Venerable Bede, who used a Bible once owned by Cassiodorus.
   Born to a noble family of southern Italy, Cassiodorus enjoyed a long and active life. In the footsteps of his grandfather, who served the emperor and was sent on an embassy to Attila the Hun, and his father, who served the king Odovacar, Cassiodorus followed the traditional path of Roman families and devoted himself to service to the state. By his time, however, it was no longer the ancient Roman emperors that he served, but a series of Ostrogothic rulers, most importantly Theodoric the Great and then his daughter Amalswintha. Before joining the royal court, Cassiodorus served in various imperial offices, including the prestigious office of consul. He was Theodoric's secretary and wrote many of the king's letters to popes, emperors, and kings. He later served as the praetorian prefect of Amalswintha, whose death precipitated the invasion of Italy by Justinian.
   His services throughout his long career were highly valued, and, unlike Boethius, he never lost the confidence of his masters. He also conducted a personal correspondence with various popes in Rome, including Pope Agapetus I (r. 535-536), to whom he suggested establishing a school of higher Christian learning. His service lasted into the 530s at least, and he appears to have retired to his ancestral estates around 538. There is, however, evidence that he was in Constantinople in 550, possibly in the service of the pope. His retirement from government service, whenever it finally occurred, found him at the monastic community he founded in 540 or 553 on his family land, which was called Vivarium because of the fish ponds (in Latin, vivaria) that decorated the estate.
   While loyally serving the Gothic rulers of Italy, Cassiodorus began his other lifelong career, the pursuit of learning, especially learning in the service of the faith. It was in this endeavor, which was demonstrated in his letter to Agapetus and in the foundation of his monastery, that Cassiodorus left his greatest legacy.
   See also
 ♦ Amory, Patrick. People and Identity in Ostrogothic Italy, 489-554. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
 ♦ Bury, John B. History of the Later Roman Empire: From the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian. 2 vols. 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1959.
 ♦ Cassiodorus. The Variae of Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus. Trans. S. J. B. Barnish. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 1992.
 ♦ Heather, Peter. The Goths. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.
 ♦ Hodgkin, Thomas. Theodoric the Goth: The Barbarian Champion of Civilization. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1983.
 ♦ Laistner, Max L. W. Thought and Letters in Western Europe, a.d. 500 to 900. 2d ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976.
 ♦ Llewellyn, Peter. Rome in the Dark Ages. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1993.
 ♦ O'Donnell, James J. Cassiodorus. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.
 ♦ Riché, Pierre. Education and Culture in the Barbarian West: From the Sixth through the Eighth Century. Trans. John Contreni. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1976.
 ♦ Wolfram, Herwig. The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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