Eyridiki Sellou | Sep 29, 2022

Table of Content


The Goths were an East Germanic people who were involved in military conflicts with the Romans several times since the 3rd century. During the Late Antique Migration Period, first the Visigoths and then the Ostrogoths formed their own empires on the soil of the Imperium Romanum, which perished in 711 and 552, respectively.

The origin of the Goths is disputed. At the turn of time, a people settled in the area of the mouth of the Vistula, which was known to ancient authors such as Tacitus under the name Gotonen (Gothic Gutans). The name is often derived from the Gothic word giutan ("to pour") or gutans ("poured") and interpreted as "pourers". Whether these peoples were the ancestors of the later Goths, as was previously assumed, is disputed. According to reports by Jordanes, the Goths originally came from Scandinavia, but this represents a fiction according to most historians.

With the starting point that the Gutons were the ancestors of the Goths, the assumption is supported that in the second half of the 2nd century a part of the people moved southeast to the Black Sea. Other researchers, on the other hand, hold the view that the Goths first emerged as a distinct people in the Black Sea region and thus in the run-up to the Roman frontier (see Ethnogenesis). After the first conflicts with the Roman Empire in southeastern Europe around the middle of the 3rd century, there was a split at the end of the 3rd century into an eastern (Greutungen) and a western group (Terwingen), from which later developed - to put it simply - the Ostrogoths (Ostrogothi = glorious Goths) and the Visigoths (Visigothi = noble, good Goths).

The Greutungen or Ostrogoths were subjugated by the Huns around 375. After their downfall, they initially became Roman foederati (allies), but conquered Italy in 488 under Theoderic, formally on behalf of Eastern Rome. After Theoderic's death, the Ostrogothic Empire disintegrated around 550 under the onslaught of Emperor Justinian's Eastern Roman troops.

The Tervingen (the later Visigoths) devastatingly defeated the Eastern Roman army under Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. They became Roman foederati in 382 and founded an empire in Gaul in the early 5th century, which was pushed into Hispania by the Franks. The Visigoth Empire was defeated by the Muslim Moors in 711.

The Visigoths were also called Tervingi (mainly in their settlement areas north of the Danube) or Vesigithi or Visigothi (here respectively the Latin forms). Terwingen means "forest people" (Gothic triu "tree"). Vesi is a pompous self-designation, which means "the noble ones

There are basically two forms of names for the Ostrogoths: Ostrogot(h)i, Ostrogotae and Greutungi (secondary forms: Greothingi, Grutungi, Grauthungi), with Greutungen loosely translated as "steppe dweller" or "beach dweller". The oldest surviving form of Ostrogoth is Austrogoti (Historia Augusta, Vita Claudii 6,2). It is a self-designation derived from a biblical Gothic lexeme transmitted by Wulfila, the compound *Austra-gutans. In Germanic comparison, austra means "eastern." Other interpretations like "the Goths shining through the sunrise" are etymologically not provable. Such interpretations were made for example by Herwig Wolfram of austr(o)-a as "shining, radiant", from Germanic *ausra (see also Easter).

Later, the names Vesigothi and Ostrogothi were anachronistically reinterpreted as Visigoths and Ostrogoths by Cassiodorus, a high Roman official of the Ostrogoth king Theoderic, when the separation of the tribes became clear. As a third ethnic group besides Ostrogoths and Visigoths, Cassiodorus names the Gepids. They were probably originally a separate people and had joined the southern campaign of the Goths. The Gepids remained for the most part in the hinterland, near the Carpathians, and played a rather subordinate role politically. The Visigoths settled north of the Danube, while the Ostrogoths spread to the mouth of the Dnieper, including the Crimea. The Visigoths constituted themselves in an oligarchy ruled by many petty kings, while the royal house of the Amalians was able (allegedly) to maintain its power among the Ostrogoths. Historically, however, the Amalians are attested only since the late 4th century AD, the ancient family tree given by Jordanes is constructed.

Jordanes named, besides Visigoths and Ostrogoths, another allegedly numerous group, which he calls Lesser Goths. These Lesser Goths, to which the Gothic bishop Wulfila belonged, are said to have settled the area of Nicopolis in Mösia in Jordanes' time.

The Goths before the separation

The first mentions of the Goths are found in the ancient historians Tacitus, Strabon and Ptolemy as Gotons. From their news, the picture of a tribe with a remarkably strong kingship for Germanic conditions emerges, which settled north of the Vistula knee in the area of power of the Marcomanni at the turn of time. Western neighbors on the Baltic coast were the Rugians. Whether the southwestern neighbors, i.e. Vandals and Lugier, were two tribal federations or one is unclear.

When Cassiodorus wrote the Historia Gothorum ("History of the Goths") in the first third of the 6th century on behalf of the Ostrogothic king Theoderic, he went back much further in time. Since Cassiodor's twelve-volume version has not survived, only the abbreviated revision by Jordanes (c. 550, De origine actibusque Getarum, or Getica) is available as a source for the early tribal legends. These tribal legends may have been transmitted orally, but they were arranged and partly invented by Cassiodorus, at least according to influential historiographical models (Tacitus' Germania). Cassiodorus compiled numerous Scandinavian and Scythian peoples, some of whose names had been known to classical antique geography and ethnography since Herodotus (especially the Geats, who were often confused with the Goths), and apparently also their king lists into a history of the Goths. The evaluation of the Getica is further complicated by the fact that it is unclear how much of Cassiodor's work was preserved in them at all.

According to the story of origin handed down by Jordanes, the Goths descended from the legendary founder of the tribe Gapt on the island of Scandza (Scandinavia). From there, under King Berig, they landed with three ships in Gothiscandza on the Baltic coast and, after five generations, set off south under Filimer. The division of the people into Western and Eastern Goths had occurred when during the crossing of a large river the bridge collapsed.

This representation, which appeared also only in the 6th century with the often little reliable Jordanes, It is to be regarded probably rather as a topical origin myth (see Origo gentis). Thus, no significant immigration from Scandinavia could be determined by archaeological research for the Willenberg culture (also Wielbark culture), which is often attributed to the early Goths. According to recent research, it is more likely that this culture originated east of the Vistula and slowly shifted from there to the southeast since the 1st century, while at the mouth of the Vistula some settlements persisted until the 4th century.

It is often assumed that the Goths originated from the union of different tribes. It is conceivable that the name "Goths" had a special prestige, which is why it was used by very different groups (similar to the Huns). The groups traditionally attributed to the Goths have in common that they did not put weapons into the grave of their deceased, which is untypical for Germanic tribes. However, the significance of this observation is now disputed. Some researchers (such as Michael Kulikowski) now deny any connection between the Willenberg culture and the Goths and assume that there was no migration of the Goths at all before the 3rd century, since the ethnogenesis of the tribe took place only at that time - and at the Danube, in the immediate vicinity of the Imperium Romanum. Just like the Franks and the Alamanni, the Goths only emerged as a new large tribe at the Roman border. The outcome of the debate about this is currently open.

We can only speak of a somewhat secure Gothic "history" when the Goths entered the horizon of Roman and Greek historians with the crossing of the Danube in 238.

Jordanes reported: When after the middle of the second century the size of the people had increased more and more, according to legend, King Filimer decided to emigrate with army, women and children. According to the traditional view, the Goths now moved (relatively slowly) along the Vistula upstream to the Danube and the Black Sea. On their way, according to this view, they displaced the Marcomanni, who dominated the Bohemian area, and thus, according to some researchers, triggered the Marcomannic Wars between Elbe Germanic tribes and Romans.

Really undisputed is only: Goths appeared at the beginning of the 3rd century in the Danube region and on the northwest coast of the Black Sea. According to many researchers, archaeologically proven is a shift of parts of the Wielbark culture into the space of the Chernyakhov culture (mostly in Ukraine), while this is meanwhile vehemently denied by other scholars who believe in a Gothic "ethnogenesis on site". It was on the Danube that the attack of Gothic groups on the empire, sometimes referred to as the "Gothic Storm," began. This occurred at the time of the imperial crisis of the 3rd century, in which the internal political instability of the soldier-emperor system was combined with external threats on the northern and eastern borders of the empire.

In 238, Goths together with Carps invaded Roman Histria south of the mouth of the Danube. In the only surviving contemporary historiographical source, the work Scythika by the Greek historian Publius Herennius Dexippus (Dexippos), they were called Scythians, in accordance with an anachronistic ethnographic topos for barbarian peoples from the Black Sea region. After plundering the city and extorting annual tribute, they departed. Ten years later, when Emperor Philip Arabs stopped paying tribute after victories over the Carps, Goths under their leader Kniva invaded Dacia, Thrace, Moesia and Illyria in 250 with several large warrior groups. Another, though not very successful, Goth leader (archon) seems to have been Ostrogotha, who is mentioned in a newly found text fragment (Scythica Vindobonensia) attributed to Dexippos. The by now new emperor Decius was defeated in several battles and finally fell in the battle of Abrittus in 251.

The next emperor Trebonianus Gallus again conceded tribute to the Goths, but was overthrown by Aemilianus, who while still governor had defeated Kniva in 252 and as emperor stopped payment in 253. Again the Goths attacked Thrace and Moesia, but this time they were defeated. After another change of emperors, the Goths advanced as far as Thessalonica in 254. By now, many Roman cities that had previously remained unfortified under the protection of the Pax Romana were heavily fortified, and the country suffered severe devastation.

Some Goths switched to sea-based attacks from 255. Initially in the area of the eastern Black Sea, they conquered Pityus and Trapezunt together with the Boran in 256. From 257, the Goths crossed the Bosporus for the first time and captured a number of Asia Minor cities. A second time, in 268, a large Gothic-Herulian armada in alliance with strong land forces advanced against Byzantium, crossing the Dardanelles and raiding the Peloponnese. Emperor Claudius II defeated the invaders at the Battle of Naissus and was the first to assume the honorary title of Gothicus. After his successor Aurelian won further victories also north of the Danube, a longer period of peace between Romans and Goths began. However, the emperor gave up the province of Dacia north of the river, which was then settled by the Goths and their allies.

Division and further ethnogenesis

With the end of the crisis of the Empire under Diocletian, who ended the internal turmoil and thus restored the defensive power of the Empire, the situation on the Danube calmed down again for the time being. During this period (around the year 290) the Goths split into the Terwingen-Vesians

In this context, it must be emphasized that the Terwingen were not simply the later Visigoths and the Greutungen were not simply the later Ostrogoths. Rather, the ethnogenesis took place in a more differentiated way: Parts of the Terwingen later merged with Greutungen and parts of other peoples to form the Ostrogoths, just as parts of the Greutungen participated in the ethnogenesis of the main part of the Terwingen to the Visigoths. In terms of time, it can be roughly said that the Visigoths "emerged" in the period of settlement in the Roman Empire in the years from 376 until the kingship of Alaric I, and the Ostrogoths in the period from the decline of the Hunnic Empire (mid-5th century) until the transfer to Italy under Theoderic the Great (489).

In research, however, there is no agreement on the extent to which one can speak of a sense of community among the later Ostrogoths, for example. The idea that the Goths were an ethnically closed association is certainly wrong. Rather, it was probably sufficient that newcomers were loyal to the "core group" (perhaps a leadership group that were bearers of a "traditional core"). In fact, real ethnic continuity lines cannot necessarily be traced, since ethnicity was subject to numerous fluctuations, especially in late antiquity, and possibly names in particular migrated.

According to scholars such as Michael Kulikowski, Roman influence on Gothic ethnogenesis was again evident around 300 - by systematically supporting the Tervingen in particular, in order to use them as allies for apron control, the emperors decisively promoted the expansion of the Tervingen sphere of influence and the consolidation of a Visigothic identity.


The territory of the Greutungen, which was ruled by their king Ermanarich, is said to have been considerable before the invasion of the Huns in 375 AD. However, it is hardly possible to say anything more precise, since even Ammianus Marcellinus, the most important source for this period, hardly gave any information about it. Jordanes reported in chapter 119 of his Getica that Ermanarich had defeated the Venethi towards the end of his reign. In ch. 116 he enumerated some of the previously subjugated peoples. Not all peoples can be identified and located. But the Merens and Mordens mentioned by him can be identified as Merians and Mordwines. The Imniscaris can be identified as the Meščera attested in the Nestor Chronicle. The Wasinabroncas, after modification into Wasinabrocans, are thought to be a people living in lush partly marshy grasslands, but cannot be located in any detail. If Rogas Tadzans is contracted to Gothic *Rōastadjans, it is "Volga riparians" (Rhōs is the Gothic name for the Volga borrowed from the Mordovians). If one omits from golthe scytha Thiodos the probably later slipped in scytha, this results in Gothic *Golthethiodos, which means "gold peoples". This name must refer to the Ural, because only there gold was found. According to Jordanes, the peoples subjugated by Ermanarich lived in an area between the Urals and the Volga, from the catchment area of the Kama in the north to the Ural River in the south.

The highest estimate assumes a Gothic sphere of influence from the Baltic to the Urals, which is considered exaggerated by most modern researchers, especially since it is not certain whether Ermanarich ruled over all Greutungen. In any case, the center of the Greutungian rule was in Ukraine and included other ethnic groups besides the Goths. As with the later Rus, long-distance trade is seen as the cause of this empire size. It was the furs from the Ice Sea area, gold from the Urals, wax and honey, a specialty of the Meščera, a Finno-Ugric name etymologically referring to bee prey, to the south. Ermanarich finally succeeded in defeating the Heruls who dominated the exit of the Volga-Don route, which only made sense from the point of view of trade. From the point of view of long-distance trade, Ermanarich's empire was a forerunner of the Rus empire, which arose later with the same aim.

The process of broadening under the influence of the Iranian steppe peoples resulted in the armored lancer making up a significant part of the Greutungen's force - in contrast to the Terwingen, where the foot soldier predominated. The Gothic cavalry warrior fought duels on horseback and could cover great distances.

In 375 at the latest, the Huns crossed the Don River and subjugated the Alans' empire. War was thus declared on Ermanarich. The Hun horsemen, with their then highly advanced reflex bows and raiding tactics, were far superior to the Gothic warriors. The king himself, as Ammianus Marcellinus tells it, did not want to experience this or to be responsible for it. After several defeats, faced with the terribleness of the impending dangers and fearing the great decisions, he himself put an end to his life. His people, however, did not give up the fight yet and elected a successor from the royal family. He fell after only one year and the Ostrogothic resistance collapsed. The majority of the people fell under the overlordship of the Huns, but a strong group of Greutungen and Alans managed to join with renegade Huns and escape subjugation, whereupon they sought refuge in the Roman Empire. It was this group that gave the Terwingen

The majority of the Greutungen, including the Gepids, submitted to the Huns and migrated with their armies to the west. Only a minority remained in the Crimea, which, however, was able to maintain itself as an independent culture for an extremely long time. Gothic was still spoken there in the 16th century. The Flemish envoy Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq met such Crimean Goths in Istanbul, from whom he handed down some words, such as reghen (rain), stul (chair) and handa (hands). The "Gothic castles", the cities of the Crimean Goths, are carved directly into the stone. In their capital Dori, all the streets and houses are carved in the middle of the rock.

The Goths living under Hunnic rule apparently adapted to the new circumstances. Priskos reports that the Gothic language was an important lingua franca in Attila's Hun empire. Among the Goths living under the Huns, there is also evidence of the custom of deforming skulls. Huns adopted Gothic names, just as, conversely, Goths bore Hunnic names. However, the relationship between Goths and Huns remained ambivalent, apparently some groups of Goths were able to escape Hunnic rule again and again or made an attempt to do so (cf. Radagaisus).

In the course of the decline of Hun rule after the death of Attila, the Gepids and other subjugated peoples freed themselves from Hun rule in 454 at the Battle of the Nedao. The Goths were still fighting on the side of the Huns, but they also gained their independence through their defeat. While the remnants of the Huns retreated to the east, the Ostrogoths concluded a federation treaty with the Roman Empire and settled in Pannonia. In 469 they defeated an alliance of several hostile tribes led by the Danubian Sueb Hunimund at the Battle of the Bolia. The son of the Ostrogoth king Thiudimir, Theoderic, came as a hostage to the court in Constantinople (probably from 459 to 469). After his release, he gained rule over part of the Ostrogoths in the Balkans and became their king in 474. At the same time there were Ostrogoths in Eastern Roman service, such as the army commander Theoderic Strabo, the rival of the previously mentioned Theoderic. Only after the accidental death of Strabo in 481 could Theoderic the Great finally assert himself.

On behalf of Emperor Zeno, who wanted to get rid of the Goths from the border area of Eastern Rome, Theoderic moved to Italy in 488 with the majority of the Ostrogoths to expel Odoacer. Odoacer had deposed the last Western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, in 476 and henceforth ruled the country as patricius. The Goths invaded Italy in 489. Theoderic was to reconquer Rome and Italy for the empire until the emperor himself would come to the west. After a two-year siege of the residential city of Ravenna, Theoderic was able to defeat Odoacer at the Battle of Raven. Although the two had already agreed on a joint government of Italy, Theoderic assassinated his counterpart at Ravenna on March 5, 493, and henceforth ruled Italy as princeps Romanus and "in place of the emperor." Zeno had died in 491, and his successor Anastasius initially did not recognize Theoderic, who apparently had himself acclaimed once again as rex. 497

After eliminating competition in his own camp, Theoderic's rule tied in with late antique administrative practices in Italy. He was concerned with a balance between Goths and Romans (who were religiously Arians and Catholics, respectively), as well as consolidating his power through marriage and alliance policies. However, he could not prevent the establishment of Frankish rule over Gaul, and only the Mediterranean coast remained Gothic for the time being after 507. In 511 he made himself rex over the Visigoths, who had been defeated by the Franks four years earlier, while a late cultural flowering of Italy occurred in the interior. Theoderic's final years were overshadowed by growing tensions with Constantinople and missteps such as the execution of Boethius for treason. Theoderic died in 526 and numerous legends arose about his death.

A serious succession crisis followed. Theoderic's daughter Amalasuntha ruled as guardian of the designated successor Athalaric, who was only ten years old. However, her cousin Theodahad deposed her in 534. Eastern Rome intervened under the energetic Emperor Justinian and sparked the Gothic War, which had devastating economic and cultural effects. The Eastern Roman commander Belisar landed in Sicily in 535 and quickly advanced across lower Italy to Rome. Rebellious Goths overthrew Theodahad and elevated Witichis to rex in 536, who held out against Belisar until 540. Then Belisar moved into Ravenna and captured Witichis.

The remnants of the Gothic army elevated Totila to rex in 541, who surprisingly succeeded in reconquering larger parts of Italy. In the following ten years, the country was devastated by war. Even Belisar, who was sent again, could not bring about a decision due to insufficient troop strength - the main imperial army was tied up by a war against the Persian Sassanids - and was finally recalled. In 552, the new eastern Roman army of Italy (about 30,000 soldiers) was led by Narses, who decisively defeated Totila in 552 at the Battle of Busta Gallorum, killing Totila.

The war ended with the defeat and death of Totila's successor Teja in 552 at the Battle of Mons Lactarius. Most of the Goths submitted to Narses. Some of the surviving Goths became Eastern Roman subjects, some resisted in some places until 562, and some joined the Franks and Lombards.


Towards the end of the 3rd century, the Tervingen began to settle Dacia, which had been abandoned by the Romans for strategic reasons. Until shortly before the beginning of the Hun threat, the situation remained calm, except for minor occasional raids by the Tervingen. Constantine the Great had concluded a treaty with the Danubian Goths in 332, committing them to aid in arms. However, with the era of Athanaric, Roman-Teruvian disputes intensified from 365 onward because of poor treatment by the Roman administration. Athanaric, who had supported a Roman usurper, was decisively defeated by the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens in 369, but was still able to negotiate a favorable treaty. The Christianization of the Tervingen, which had begun in the meantime (Wulfila in particular should be emphasized here), led to persecutions of Christians and the formation of an opposition against Athanarich among the Fritigern, who had converted to Arianism.

Although Fritigern was supported by Valens, Athanarich retained the upper hand for the time being. This changed, however, with the growth of the Hun threat, which Athanaric was unable to avert. Large parts of the Terwingen fled to the empire in 376 under Fritigern with the permission of the Romans under chaotic conditions.

The Visigoths, who emerged as part of a process of ethnogenesis on Eastern Roman soil after this crossing of the Danube in 376, differed from the Terwingen (as well as the Greutungen). The Visigoths were already wrongly interpreted as "Visigoths" in the Getica of Jordanes. In German historical research and in languages influenced by it, such as Russian and Ukrainian, the designation "Visigoths" prevailed for the Visigoths; in many other countries the designation "Visigoths" is used.

In 376, after months of negotiations, Emperor Valens allowed the Tervingen under Fritigern to cross the Danube and settle in parts of Thrace. He saw in them recruits for the thinned-out Roman army. However, they were not disarmed because of the failure of the local administration. As a result, tens of thousands of Terwingen eventually crossed the Danube, so that the Romans were completely overwhelmed by logistical problems in supplying the Visigoths, who were suffering from hunger, especially since there was mismanagement on the Roman side. The Roman army was also completely overtaxed and could not prevent that together with the Terwingen of Fritigern several other tribes passed the Danube, partly in disorder. A short time later, fighting broke out. The Roman regional army was defeated, and Roman slaves and previously Romanized Goths went over to Fritigern. A group of Greutungen, who were very close by at the same time, made contact with the Tervingen, as did some Alans and fugitive Huns. Against this confederation of three peoples, Emperor Valens led the entire eastern court army of about 30,000 men into Thrace. His nephew Gratian was supposed to approach from the north with his elite troops, but was delayed by a sudden Alamanni incursion and arrived late in northwestern modern Bulgaria.

Since the Romans received word that the Visigoths' army would consist of only 10,000 men, Valens decided to attack on the morning of August 9, 378, despite the lack of reinforcements. The two armies met at Adrianople. However, contrary to their assumption, the Romans found a numerically much stronger opponent who, moreover, had entrenched himself behind a massive chariot fortress. By means of negotiations, both sides wanted to avoid a fight and bring about a peaceful solution, but two Roman units began the attack without orders due to indiscipline. The rest of the troops followed, and the battle ensued. After the Visigoths repelled an initial attack, the Romans regrouped and began a second assault on the wagon train. In the midst of the battle, however, the horsemen of the Greutungen returned from their search for food and immediately plunged into battle. With Fritigern now also launching a sortie, the Romans suddenly found themselves pinned down and attacked from two sides. The left wing was initially able to advance further, but was intercepted by the Greutungian horsemen, whereupon the Roman cavalry and the tactical army reserve fled.

Two thirds of the Roman army, Emperor Valens and almost all generals and staff officers were killed. The most powerful parts of the Roman army in the east were thus largely destroyed. The consequences of the battle were manifold: the Terwingian Visigoths became horsemen, Christianization was promoted, and Roman policy towards barbarians belonging to the empire had to be changed: from now on they were integrated, and economic, political and legal measures were taken accordingly. That Adrianople was the beginning of the end of the empire, as sometimes assumed in older research, is now strongly doubted. However, there was a subsequent reorientation of Roman foreign policy, which now had to rely less than before on preventive strikes and more on diplomacy and tribute. The reason was an acute shortage of soldiers, which promoted the barbarization of the army.

In October 382, a treaty was signed between the Visigoths and the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, who had ruled the East since 379 as co-emperor of Gratian. According to this agreement, the Visigoths were settled as federates between the Danube and the Balkan Mountains, received land free of tax (which, however, remained Roman territory) and yearly salaries, but had to serve as soldiers in return. In addition, a marriage prohibition between Romans and Visigoths was issued. This treaty set in motion a development that ultimately led to the Visigoths becoming a "state within the state", although this development had not been foreseeable in its full scope beforehand - especially since Theodosius had solved the Gothic problem at least for the time being and now had a powerful army at his disposal again, in which the Visigoths were integrated. All in all, this "Gothic treaty" did not deviate significantly from Roman treaty practice. It was rather the later development that made the impact of the foedus openly apparent. The exact content and significance of the Gothic treaty of 382 are disputed due to the poor state of the sources.

Possibly due to the increasing pressure from the Huns, Visigothic bands began to plunder southward in 391, when Fravitta, a tribal leader loyal to Rome, killed his rival Eriulf. When in 395 the Huns crossed the Danube on a large scale, most of the Visigoths, who had settled since 382, left their residences and, under Alaric I, went plundering across the Balkans and the Peloponnese, especially since after the death of Emperor Theodosius I they no longer felt bound by the treaties they had concluded with him. As late as 394, they had supported Theodosius in the civil war against Eugenius and paid an immense price in blood. After being defeated by the Roman commander Stilicho, they received a new foedus three years later in 397 and were settled in Macedonia.

They remained there only four years, because Alaric still had not obtained a position in the Roman state that would have corresponded to his ideas and would have legalized and secured his position. He and his men felt cheated of the reward for their help in the fight against Eugenius. In 401, therefore, Alaric's Visigoths again went on the move, crisscrossing the Eastern Empire (Balkans) and Italy, finally settling outside Rome seven years later (408) after the death of Stilicho. Alaric's increasingly desperate pleas to the Emperor Honorius to provide for and pay him and his men were repeatedly rejected by the Romans in a misjudgment of the situation. On August 24, 410, Alaric's troops, who had already threatened such action twice before, therefore captured Rome almost without resistance and plundered it for three days. Because of the continuing precarious supply situation, Alaric tried in vain to reach rich North Africa, but lacked ships. On his retreat to northern Italy he died. His successor Athaulf led the Visigoths into Gaul.

After further military conflicts (advances into Hispania, another attempt to advance into North Africa), the Visigoths were again granted a treaty of federation after a defeat by imperial troops in 418 and were settled in Aquitaine by Constantius III. This was the beginning of the Gallic Empire of the Visigoths around Tolosa (today's Toulouse).

Over the next decades, there were repeated clashes between Romans and Visigoths, as well as between Romans and various other Germanic tribes, and finally the increasingly massive Hun threat. In 451 the battle took place on the Catalaunian Fields. There, the Huns, Gepids, various other Germanic tribes and Ostrogoths faced each other on one side, and Romans, Gauls, likewise various Germanic tribes and Visigoths on the other. The battle ended in a draw, but the nimbus of Attila's invincibility was gone. According to legend, the then king of the Visigoths, Theoderid, died as a result of a spear thrown by the Ostrogoth Andagis.

In the period that followed, the Visigothic Empire became increasingly consolidated. Theoderic II exerted influence on Western Roman politics and imposed his acquaintance, the distinguished Gallo-Roman Avitus, as emperor. After the latter's death, Theoderic II fought the Visigothic army commander Aegidius, who lifted the Visigothic siege of Arles in 458. When Aegidius fell out with the Ravenna government in 461 and defected to northern Gaul, the Visigoths attacked Aegidius on behalf of the powerful army commander Ricimer, but he was able to defeat them with Frankish support at Orléans in 463. A Roman enclave in northern Gaul lasted until 486 under Syagrius, the son of Aegidius.

Especially under the important king Eurich, who in the 460s, in view of the weakness of the Western Roman emperor, terminated the treaty of federation and set about conquering the surrounding Gaulish territories, the Visigothic empire grew visibly stronger. In the process, the Goths apparently met little resistance; rather, in many places they probably simply moved into the position that the emperor could no longer fill. There was both confrontation and cooperation with the Gallo-Roman upper class. Spain increasingly became the focus of Visigothic activity, where Eurich was able to establish himself. With the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476, the Tolosan Empire became de facto independent and, at the time of its greatest expansion, stretched from Hispania, which experienced two major waves of immigration in the 490s, to the Loire.

Against the advancing Franks under the Merovingian Clovis I, who had conquered the northern Gaulish kingdom of Syagrius in 486, the Visigoths under King Alaric II largely lost their Gallic lands after their defeat at the Battle of Vouillé in 507. Thereafter, they were confined to the Iberian Peninsula and a narrow, highly valuable strip of the French Mediterranean coast (Septimania and the adjacent coast to the west). Tolosa was also lost. Apparently, Alaric II had completely underestimated the threat posed by Clovis and had not taken seriously as a warning the fall of Syagrius, whom he had still delivered to Clovis. Even the support of Gallo-Roman contingents under the senator Apollinaris could not turn the tide. Alaric was killed in battle and his son Amalaric initially took over. However, the Visigoth Empire was in disintegration and could only be defended against the Franks with Ostrogothic help. In 511, the Visigoths temporarily came under Ostrogothic rule: Theoderic, taking advantage of Visigothic anarchy, declared himself their king.

After Theoderic's death, the Visigoths became independent again in 526, and Toledo became their new residence. In 531, they again suffered a severe defeat at the hands of the Franks and lost all remaining Gallic territories except for Septimania. Only King Leovigild, after a prolonged period of turmoil, succeeded in consolidating the empire from the late 560s onward, gradually bringing the Iberian Peninsula almost entirely under Visigothic control. He subdued the Cantabrians and the Suebi in the northwest and also pushed back the Eastern Romans who, under Justinian, had been conquering territories in the south around Córdoba and Carthago Nova since 552. However, the last imperial fortresses in Spain did not capitulate until the 620s.

Leovigild (568 to 586) was the first Visigoth king who openly presented himself as a sovereign ruler: he stopped putting the image of the emperor on his gold coins, signaling that he no longer recognized the formal supremacy of Constantinople. In addition, he became the first Visigoth to wear the crown and purple, and in the manner of the Roman emperors, he founded a new city, Reccopolis, named after his son Rekkared. But the following decades were marked by frequent disputes over succession to the throne. An elective kingship had developed under Roman influence and powerful noble families fought for the crown. The respective royal house, on the other hand, tried to impose a hereditary monarchy.

Another power factor was the Catholic Church. After repeated attempts by the kings to convert the majority of the population to Arianism had failed, they finally chose the opposite path: after King Rekkared I had already converted to Catholicism in 587, Catholicism became the imperial religion at the 3rd Council of Toledo in 589, whereupon Arianism apparently soon disappeared. This made possible the previously forbidden (though often practiced) mixing of the hitherto Arian Visigoths (probably only about two to three percent of the total population of Hispania) with the rest of the population. As a result, the use of the Gothic language rapidly dwindled in favor of a late Latin or early Spanish vernacular. By the time of the Arab invasion in 711, no one except the highest noble circles will have used the Gothic language. The Visigothic kings subsequently commanded the church in a de facto unrestricted manner, without interference from the pope, with which the Spanish bishops apparently agreed.

The late 6th century was a cultural heyday of the Visigothic Empire, characterized by an increasing displacement of visigothic elements in favor of late antique Roman elements. Thus, it was no coincidence that in this environment Isidore of Seville could work, striving to preserve the knowledge of antiquity that was still accessible to him. Also, kings ensured the continuation of the codification of law, which had already begun Eurich and continued until the 7th century. But in the following period the struggles for the throne did not break off. King Wamba (672-680) was the first Western European ruler who is known to have anointed himself king according to the Old Testament model - a way of strengthening his own position that was adopted a few decades later in the Frankish Empire.

After the death of King Witiza, Roderich (Rodrigo) was elected king in 710. But the Muslims, who had conquered all of North Africa, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar with an expeditionary force of at least 8000 men. King Roderic was currently on a campaign against rebellious Basques. He hurried south with almost the entire Gothic army when it became known that a Muslim army (allegedly thanks to the help of a renegade Byzantine governor named Julian) had crossed from North Africa. Contrary to claims to the contrary in later sources, current research states that it is certain that the king was not betrayed by nobles from his own ranks. However, he was apparently coerced by the Gothic greats into accepting battle before his army was fully assembled. He was defeated by the invaders in the battle of the Río Guadalete. The Visigothic capital Toledo fell without a fight. Seville and some large cities managed to hold out for almost two more years against the Muslims who subsequently poured into the country in large numbers. By 719, the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula was complete. In 725, the last remnant of the empire's Septimania north of the Pyrenees was taken by the Muslims. The Visigothic nobleman Theodemir made peace with the Muslims and was thus able to secure a hereditary principality under Muslim suzerainty; this landscape was named Tudmir after him.

It was from Asturias that the later so-called Reconquista (reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula by Christians) began from 722 under the Visigothic nobleman Pelagius (Pelayo). After the collapse of the Visigoth Empire, Asturias had also fallen completely under Muslim rule, but in 718 Pelayo was elected king or prince by insurgents. He founded the Kingdom of Asturias, whose rulers later considered themselves successors to the Visigoth kings.

Visigothic traces in Spanish culture are minimal, especially since the number of Visigoths was never particularly large. However, quite a few grandees still proudly traced their lineage back to actual or supposed Germanic ancestors for a very long time - in some cases until today.

It should be noted that after the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths settled on Roman territory, there was a varying degree of appropriation of Roman culture by the Goths, although differences still existed (Anthropomorphic Rock Tombs of the Iberian Peninsula). Conversely, Islamic culture in medieval Spain adopted much from the Visigoths, such as the form of the column capitals in their mosques. This can be traced especially in Andalusia.


Gothic is the main representative of the East Germanic language branch, which also includes Vandalic and Burgundian. Since it was written by Wulfila several centuries earlier than all other Germanic languages and thus was the first Germanic language to attain the rank of a written language, the surviving Gothic is more ancient than, for example, Old English or Old Norse. It is probably closer in some respects to Common Germanic.

Gothic is extinct except for traces it left in the vocabulary of Romance languages. Until the 17.


The original religion of the Goths belongs to the Germanic religions. As for other Germanic religions, the sources for the religion of the Goths are poor.

Jordanes reports that after a victory the Goths no longer regarded their kings as ordinary men, but called them demigods (semidei), in Gothic ansis (Getica 13). The name "ansis" seems to be the Gothic form of the name of the Aesir. Among the Visigoths, the god of war, Tyz, possibly came first. A Gothic Wodan-Odin is not certainly handed down. In addition, the Danube and other rivers were worshipped as deities. The river god received human sacrifices and oaths were taken in his name. Battles were opened with praise songs to the ancestors and the gods and the drinking of mead. The priests and shamans (also priestesses) of the individual tribes worshipped local deities. A common cult of all Goths (or even all Visigoths) apparently did not exist.

As early as the 3rd century, the Goths came into contact with Christianity, since among the captives they took in their raids on Roman territory were Christians who attempted conversion among the Goths. The declared enemy of Rome Athanaric, who was the elected spokesman of the Visigothic petty kings as judge (Latin iudex) until 375, persecuted the Gothic Christians in the name of the Gothic deities before 346 and 369-372.

Christianity spread socially from the bottom up. The Terwingian upper class saw it as a threat to the religious and social order and suspected the Christians of collaborating with the Romans. Therefore, persecutions of Christians occurred. Athanarich had Christians burned along with their houses, and the Goth Wingurich set fire to full churches.

In the course of these conflicts, Athanaric's opponent, Fritigern, who had converted to Arian Christianity, allied himself with the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens and thus sided with Rome. In 367, Athanaric and Fritigern fought an intra-Gothic battle in which the former prevailed. This had momentous consequences for the relationship with Rome, and the Christians also had to suffer greatly.

The Gothic bishop Wulfila, together with his helpers, created the first Germanic translation of the Bible (Wulfila Bible) after he was expelled from the Gothic Empire during the first persecution of Christians and settled by the Roman emperor Constantius II in the strip of land east of the lower Danube. He translated them partly on the basis of pieces already translated by Latin and Greek missionaries, from 350 until the year of his death in 383. The best preserved copy is the Codex Argenteus - a royal manuscript on purple-colored calf parchment, written in silver and gold ink. It demonstrates the esteem in which these identity-building efforts were held as late as the 6th century. Wulfila himself was probably baptized at birth, educated in three languages, and received a rhetorical education. Around 341 he must have received his consecration as bishop of the Christians in the Gothic country.

Not much is known about the Christianization of the Ostrogoths. At the latest, the Pannonian Goths under Theoderic were considered Arian.


Thanks to Jordanes, four royal clans of the Goths have survived: the Amalians, the Balthens, the Berigs and the Geberichs. It is disputed how old these families actually were; meanwhile many researchers assume that a proper kingship among the Gothic associations was established only late and that the prehistory of the families is fiction. According to Joardanes, the progenitor of the semi-divine Amales was Amal, legendary great-grandson of Gapt, whose great-grandson in turn was a certain Ostrogotha, the "father of the Ostrogoths". Cassiodorus associates them with the A(n)ses (cf. the Norse Asen), the gods. The first historical Amalian was Ermanarich, and another prominent representative of this dynasty was Theoderic the Great. The German heroic saga preserves the name of the royal dynasty as Amelungen. The visigothic Balths (the "bold", English bold) took the second rank. Among them were Alaric I, Ricimer and Gesalech. From the Berig clan only Berig himself, an otherwise unknown Gadarig and Filimer are known. To the clan of Geberich belonged beside the name giver possibly also Kniva. The politically motivated tradition of the 6th century sees the Amalians and Balthen as legitimate rulers of the Ostrogoths and Visigoths.

Dominion building

The territory of the Goths was the gutþiuda, divided into small tribes, the kunja. The latter were presided over by the chiefs (reiks), who met in the council (gafaúrds). In case of danger, a judge (kindins) was appointed. The judge or the council appointed an army commander (drauhtins) for military undertakings. The country was ruled by the aristocracy in house (gards) and castle (baúrgs) in competition with the cooperative village (haims).

In the course of time, especially with the migrations, the elements of the Germanic army kingship became more and more prevalent: The king þiudans was raised to the shield by the assembly of warriors (which became a winged word). This development finally culminated in the competition of elective kingship and hereditary monarchy of the Spanish Visigoths. The Ostrogothic king Theoderic ("the Great"), on the other hand, saw himself as a Roman citizen and Latin king, Flavius rex. His ambition was to make Gothic history a part of Roman history.

The source situation regarding the Goths is in part very incomplete. Jordanes' historical work Getica represents an important source, although modern research views his descriptions far more critically and the information conveyed by him must be used with due caution.

Publius Herennius Dexippus (Dexippos) gave a detailed account of the "Gothic storm" during the imperial crisis of the 3rd century, but only fragments of it have survived. Ammianus Marcellinus is responsible for the period from the crushing of the Greutungen Empire to the Battle of Adrianople (this becomes particularly clear if the following narrative sources are taken as a comparison. Zosimos and the fragments of several historians (such as Olympiodoros of Thebes) or the Consularia Constantinopolitana offer only isolated insights into subsequent developments. Procopius of Caesarea, on the other hand, offers us a detailed history of the Gothic wars of Emperor Justinian in the 6th century.

In addition, for Hispania, the chronicle of Hydatius of Aquae Flaviae and various late antique church histories (such as that of Sozomenos), but also Orosius' Historiae adversum Paganos and Cassiodor's Variae (however, his brief chronicle is preserved). The letters of Sidonius Apollinaris, a Gallo-Roman, provide insights into the Visigothic kingdom of Toulouse and the relations between Romans and Goths. Furthermore, the chronicle of John of Biclaro and the historical work of Isidore (Historia de regibus Gothorum, Vandalorum et Suevorum) should be mentioned. In addition, there are various legal texts (for example, the Leges Visigothorum).

In addition, archaeology is of great importance, especially with regard to the early history of the Goths.


  1. Visigoths
  2. Goten
  3. Rudolf Much: Ostgoten. In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde (RGA), Bd. 3, 1. Aufl. Straßburg 1915–16, S. 389, § 10 f. (umfassende namenskundliche Abhandlung).
  4. ^ The Augustan History mentions Scythians, Greuthungi, Tervingi, Gepids, Peucini, Celts and Heruli. Zosimus names Scythians, Heruli, Peucini and Goths.
  5. ^ The first R is held at the Musée de Cluny, Paris.
  6. ^ According to Thompson (1963), the others were (i) Victoriacum, founded by Leovigild and may survive as the city of Vitoria, but a twelfth-century foundation for this city is given in contemporary sources, (ii) Lugo id est Luceo in the Asturias, referred to by Isidore of Seville, and (iii) Ologicus (perhaps Ologitis), founded using Basque labour in 621 by Suinthila as a fortification against the Basques, is modern Olite. All of these cities were founded for military purposes and at least Reccopolis, Victoriacum, and Ologicus in celebration of victory. A possible fifth Visigothic foundation is Baiyara (perhaps modern Montoro), mentioned as founded by Reccared in the fifteenth-century geographical account, Kitab al-Rawd al-Mitar.[238]
  7. Сведения о народах Кавказа (1404 г.). — Баку: Элм. — 1979.
  8. Chronicon sancti Huberti Andaginensis. MGH, SS. — Bd. VIII. — Hannover. — 1848.
  9. Waldman, Carl; Mason, Catherine (2006). Encyclopedia of European peoples. Nueva York: Facts On File. p. 575. ISBN 978-0816049646.
  10. Waldman, Carl; Mason, Catherine (2006). Encyclopedia of European peoples. New York: Facts On File. p. 575
  11. Hewitt, Winfred P. Lehmann ; with bibliography prepared under the direction of Helen-Jo J. (1986). A Gothic etymological dictionary. Leiden: E.J. Brill. pp. 163-164. ISBN 978-9004081765.
  12. Braune, W; Heidermanns, F (2004). Gotische Grammatik. Tubinga: Niemeyer.

Please Disable Ddblocker

We are sorry, but it looks like you have an dblocker enabled.

Our only way to maintain this website is by serving a minimum ammount of ads

Please disable your adblocker in order to continue.

Dafato needs your help!

Dafato is a non-profit website that aims to record and present historical events without bias.

The continuous and uninterrupted operation of the site relies on donations from generous readers like you.

Your donation, no matter the size will help to continue providing articles to readers like you.

Will you consider making a donation today?