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With the Goths and Vandals the Germani enter history. The trail they blazed
across Europe scorched the edges of civilisation, which duly took note. The very earliest records we have of these peoples are mere jottings in comparison with
the pages written on their wars with Rome. In the days of Roman security, Pliny the Elder described the Vandili as a grouping of Germanic people, which
Burgodiones, Varinnae, Charini and Gutones.1Pliny, Natural History, book 4, chapter 28.
We can recognise two of these peoples - the Burgundians and Goths - among those Germanic tribes who later took over parts of the former Western Roman Empire.
Although the Burgundians and Vandals left few clues to the language they spoke, such evidence as exists supports Pliny. All seem to have spoken Eastern
Germanic, of which the only recorded language is Gothic. Procopius declared that the Goths, Vandals, Visigoths and Gepids
while they are distinguished from
one another by their names, do not differ in anything else at all. For they all have white bodies and fair hair, and are tall and handsome to look upon, and
they use the same laws and practise a common religion. For they are all of the Arian faith, and have one language called Gothic.2Procopius,
The History of the Wars, book 3, section 2.
So we should not expect much, if any, genetic distinction between these peoples. They were of the same stock, Scandinavian in origin. None was clannish to the point of exclusivity. A successful Germanic warlord could attract fighters from neighbouring groups, or even former enemies, to swell his warband. Any substantial army was polyethnic.3Tacitus, Germania, 14; H. Wolfram,History of the Goths (1988), pp. 5-8.
Once the Goths took possession of chunks of civilisation, they could have both their past and present recorded for posterity in flattering terms.
Cassiodorus, a Roman in the service of Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, wrote a 12-volume history of this people. It does not survive, but we have a
summary of it written by Jordanes, a 6th-century Roman bureaucrat of Gothic extraction. Jordanes knew little of the early history of his people. There is a tone
of uncertainty about his statement that
the Goths are said to have come forth long ago from the
island of Scandza (Scandinavia) to mainland Europe
(specifically an island in the River Vistula, in the case of the Gepids, who were of Gothic origin) and from there to the coast of the Black Sea. 4Jordanes, The Origins and Deeds of the Goths, chapters 4 and 17. Jordanes gives no date for the move to mainland Europe, but
his claim (chapter 60) that the race of the Ostrogoths in 540 AD was overcome in almost its two thousand and thirtieth year produced the commonly-quoted
calculation of 1490 AD, which has no historical value.
Yet there is no reason to doubt that there was a movement of Goths from Sweden to the mouth of the Vistula. By the time Classical sources first note this
people, they appear in both places, though under variant names. Ptolemy places the Gutae (Gautae) in southern Scandia c. 150 AD.5Claudius Ptolemy, The Geography, book 2, chapter 10. Southern Sweden historically formed Gautland (Götland),
the land of the Gautar in Old Norse, whose name is retained in the present region of Götaland, Sweden.6H. Stĺl,Ortnamn
och ortnamnsforskning, (1976), p.130.Ptolemy also mentions the Gythones living on the east bank of the Vistula, while Tacitus renders
the name as Gotones.7Claudius Ptolemy, The Geography, book 3, chapter 5; Tacitus, Germania, 44.
The suffix-one may mean
small, indicating a offspring group of the Scandinavian parent. It was dropped as the Goths emerged as an
independent force further south.8H. Wolfram,History of the Goths (1988), pp. 20-21.
Pliny the Elder quotes Pytheas (who wrote c.320 BC) as saying that the Guiones
inhabit the shores of an estuary of the ocean called Mentonomon.....
at one day's sail from this territory is the Isle of Abalus, upon the shores of which, amber is thrown up by the waves in spring ... the inhabitants ... sell it
to their neighbours, the Teutones.9Pliny,Natural History, book 37, chapter 11, para 35.Amber
explains the particular attraction of this region to the Goths. Initially the chief source of amber was eastern Jutland. But by the first century AD, amber from
the southern and eastern Baltic was feeding the demand from Rome.10B. Cunliffe, The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek
(2001), p. 142.
Around the mouth of the Vistula in modern Pomerelia (Poland), the Nordic-influenced Wielbark culture (c. 30 to 400 AD) was once thought to reflect the arrival of the Goths. Yet the Guiones seem to be living there centuries earlier. Also archaeologists have pointed to the continuity of the Wielbark culture from earlier cultures in the same area. The influence from eastern Sweden dates back into the Late Bronze Age.11A. Kaliff, Gothic Connections: Contacts between eastern Scandinavia and the southern Baltic coast 1000 BC – 500 AD, Occasional Papers in Archaeology 26, (Uppsala 2001). That is just the time when we would expect a southern exodus from Sweden as the climatic deteriorated.
The amber trade may have introduced Goths to faraway places. The main amber routes ran up the Vistula and Oder Rivers to the Danube. From there one fork went to Greece and the other via tha Alpine passes to Northern Italy. However another amber route travelled overland from the Baltic as far as the head of the Dnieper, then down river to the Black Sea.12E. Jovaisa, The Balts and the amber, in A. Butrimas (ed.), Baltic Amber (2001), pp. 149-156. The pull of the south drew the Goths up the Vistula during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, or so it seems from the spread of Wielbark culture elements. Then the predominantly Germanic Chernyakhov (or Cernjachov) culture emerged north of the Black Sea in the later 3rd and 4th centuries AD, while the number of settlements in the original Gothic heartland around the Vistula gradually decreased. 13P. J. Heather and J. Matthews, The Goths in the Fourth Century (1991), chapter 3.
Jordanes dramatises this migration to the Black Sea as a single event, led by King Filimer. Yet it is clear from his account that the Goths did not move
as one body. Jordanes explains this in contradictory ways. At one point he claims that a bridge broke after half the army of Filimar had crossed it, so the
remaining Goths were stranded permanently on the other side. Yet he elsewhere disparages the Gepids as slow of movement. They remained on their island in the
Fastida, king of the Gepidae, stirred up his quiet people to enlarge their boundaries by war. He overwhelmed the Burgundians, almost
annihilating them, and conquered a number of other races also.14Jordanes, The Origins and Deeds of the Goths,
chapters 4 and 17.
Alternative views of the Goths have argued against the traditional migration story.15A.S. Christensen, Cassiodorus, Jordanes and the History of the Goths: studies in a migration myth(2002). Yet without migration it is difficult to account for the development of the Gothic language. The separation from the Germanic core has been dated by glottochronology to around 80 BC.16V. Blažek, On the internal classification of Indo-European languages: survey, Linguistica online (November 2005). Another possible clue is genetic. The I1b-M227 sub-cladeof the predominantly Nordic Y-DNA haplogroup I1 is found in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. It appears to have arisen in the last one thousand to five thousand years. It has been reported at modest levels (0.5-2.0%) in Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Estonia, Ukraine, Switzerland, Slovenia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Croatia.17International Society of Genetic Genealogy: Haplogroup I (9 May 2010) http://www.isogg.org/tree/ISOGG_HapgrpI.html So it could mark the movements of the Goths. We would expect to find its parent I1* among the Goths as well, along with other haplogroups found in Scandinavia, and indeed some haplotypes of I1* appear in Eastern Europe, but I1b-M227 is particularly interesting, as it is not found to any great degree in Scandinavia itself. It therefore may have arisen among the Goths around the Vistula.
Within the area of South-East Europe that became dominated by the Goths were other peoples. The Pontic-Caspian steppe had long been a home to Scythians, whose successors in the 1st century AD were the related Sarmatians. Both were Iranian-speaking nomads of the steppes. The Scythians had allowed Greek colonies to set down roots along the shores of the Black Sea long before. By 258 the Goths had captured Olbia and Tyras, two Greek cities on the Black Sea. This gave the Goths access to ships and skilled sailors, which soon became a pirate fleet.18I. Bóna, From Dacia to Erdöelve: Transylvania in the period of the Great Migrations (271-896), in L. Makkai et al., History of Transylvania, vol. 1 (2001).Celts had pushed into the region from the Middle Danube in the early 3rd century BC.19B.Cunliffe, The Ancient Celts (1997), pp. 172-6. Later in that century the Bastarnae or Peucini appeared in the area. Ancient authors give conflicting accounts of their ethnicity, but Tacitus is most specific. He tells us that they were Germanic-speaking, but had inter-married with Sarmatians. They were living north of Dacia in the 2nd century AD.20Tacitus, Agricola Germania, trans. H. Mattingly, revised with introduction and notes by J.B. Rives (2009),Germania, 46 and p. 109, n. 135; Ptolemy, Geography, III.5; H. Wolfram, History of the Goths (1988), pp. 43-4. Those Dacians outside the Roman province of Dacia were known as Carpi. West of the Black Sea were the Thracians, who had been absorbed into the Roman Empire. The Thracian tribes known as Getae formed the Roman province of Moesia. Cassiodorus (via Jordanes) mixed up the literate Getae and the illiterate Goths, and threw in stories originally told of the Scythians, creating a cloud of past glories for the Goths which we can ignore.21P. Heather, Goths and Romans 332-589 (1991), pp. 52-5.
Their genuine history starts with the incursions of the Goths into the Roman Empire, for which we have other sources. Their first recorded raid was in 238 AD, when they pillaged the town of Histria, at the mouth of the Danube. The Gothic King Cniva was strong enough in 250 to command a combined attack on Dacia and Moesia by Goths, Carpi, Vandals and Bastarnae. 22H. Wolfram, History of the Goths (1988), pp. 44-5. Marauding Goths and their allies finally forced the Romans to abandon Dacia in 271.23I. Bóna, From Dacia to Erdöelve: Transylvania in the period of the Great Migrations (271-896), in L. Makkai et al., History of Transylvania, vol. 1 (2001).
Yet the Romans were not particulary concerned about the Goths at that stage. The Empire seemed invincible, but insofar as a threat was perceived on their eastern borders, it was from the Alamanni (Germani) further north. Constantine the Great did campaign against the Goths in 332 AD at the request of certain Sarmatians. It is unclear whether his peace treaty with the Goths dictated that some should serve in the Roman army as foederati, but the habit of recruiting from among barbarians is notable from the time of Constantine.24N.E. Lenski (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine (2006), pp. 359-61.
This peace treaty set the scene for greater traffic of people and ideas between the Goths and the Empire. Among the Gothic ambassadors to Constantine was the young Ulfila(s), or Wulfila. His ancestors were Christian Cappadocians, carried off in a Gothic raid into Anatolia in about 257. It seems that these Christian captives retained their faith and Greek language, for Ulfila spoke Greek, Latin and Gothic. That would make him useful as a translator, ambassador or missionary. He was ordained bishop of the Christians in Gothic lands by Eusebius of Nicomedia, and returned to his people. His Arian brand of Christianity spread among the Goths. However after seven years, to escape religious persecution by a Gothic chief, he sought sanctuary for himself and his flock in Moesia. There he translated the Bible into Gothic, for which he devised a Gothic alphabet. 25Philostorgius,Church History, trans. P.R. Amidon (2007), pp. 20-22; P. J. Heather and J. Matthews, The Goths in the Fourth Century (1991), chapter 5: The life and work of Ufila. That prodigious work is the first record of the Gothic language, and the earliest literature in any Germanic language.
When Constantine's nephew, Julian the Apostate, became emperor in 361, his attention was drawn to the Danube border, which he strengthened. But when
advised to attack the neighbouring Goths,
he replied that he was looking for a better enemy; that for the Goths the Galatian traders were enough, by whom
they were offered for sale everywhere.26Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman Antiquities, book 22, chapter 7, section 7.
One feels that fate should have punished him for hubris, but it was Emperor Valens who felt the fury of the Goths. The Gothic people known as the Thervingi
(forest people), joined forces with the usurper Procopius against Valens in 365 AD. They suffered the wrath of Valens and had to sue for peace.27Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman Antiquities, book 26, chapter 10, section 3; book 27, chapter 5, section 1; book 31, chapter 3,
section 4; P. J. Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire: a new history of Rome and the Barbarians (2006), p. 73; H. Wolfram, History of the
Goths (1988), p. 25.
It was the Huns who finally drove the Goths across the border. Sweeping in from the east across the steppe, the Huns first overran the Alans east of the River Don and forced the survivors into confederacy. Then they displaced the Goths from their homeland in 375. Most of the Thervingi sought asylum in Thrace from Emperor Valens. His advisers greeted the news as a windfall of new troops for the Emperor, who accordingly gave permission for the refugees to cross the Danube. Similar pleas from the Goths known as the Greuthungi (steppe people), were refused, but they crossed the Danube anyway, swelling the influx to uncontrollable levels. Roman ill-treatment of the Thervingi led to their revolt and defeat of Roman units in Thrace. Joining forces with the Greuthungi and even some Huns and Alans, they created a combined barbarian group which marauded over Thrace. On 9 August 378 Valens marched on the Goths from Adrianople. The Romans suffered a crushing defeat in which Valens himself lost his life. When the battle was over, two-thirds of the eastern army lay dead.28Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman Antiquities, book 31, chaps. 3-8, 12-13; H. Wolfram, History of the Goths (1988), p. 25. It was the beginning of the end for the Western Empire.
Emperor Gracian appointed Theodosius to deal with the problem of the Goths, who had spread from Thrace into Macedonia. Theodosius was proclaimed as Eastern Emperor on 19 January 379. He seems to have pursued a policy of divide and rule, recruiting some barbarians into his army to fight against those who still opposed him. Theodosius finally succeeded in driving the Goths back into Thrace during 381 and reached a settlement with them on 3 October 382. The Goths were granted the right to settle along the Danube frontier, and many were to serve in the Roman army.29P. Heather, Goths and Romans 332-589 (1991), pp. 149-159.
Such service probably explains the death of a Goth in Late Roman Britain. This man of about 40 years old was buried outside the Roman city of Glevum (Gloucester), with a silver swordbelt buckle and other fittings similar to 5th-century types in the region of the Crimea. Isotope analysis indicated that he spent his childhood in Eastern Europe.30British Archaeology, no. 113 (July/August 2010), p.7. Goths remained in the mountains of Crimea long after the invasion of the Huns. They even managed to fight off the same enemy a second time, as the Huns retreated eastwards during the late fifth and early sixth century, after losing control of their European empire.31H. Wolfram, History of the Goths (1988), p. 261. Making common cause with Emperor Justinian I against the Huns, the Crimean Goths became Byzantine allies,32Dimitri Obolensky, Byzantium and the Slavs (1994), pp. 6-8. until the sacking of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) in 1204. The territory of the Goths was known to the Byzantines as Gothia, and later as the Principality of Theodoro until 1475, when it was taken by the Ottoman Turks. A variety of the Gothic language was recorded there in the 16th century.33MacDonald Stearns, Crimean Gothic: Analysis and etymology of the corpus(1978).
So the Crimean penisula housed the longest-lived Gothic state. Yet any attempt to trace the genes of Goths in the Crimea of today is likely to be thwarted by the massive changes of population since then, including Catherine the Great's encouragement to Germans to migrate to Ukraine and the Crimea, after she seized these lands from the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century.
The advance of the Huns did not halt on the steppe. In 395 AD they pushed south into the Eastern Roman Empire. They pillaged at will until halted by Imperial troops, including Goths, at the end of 398. It seems that the thwarted Huns then rode north-westward, driving other Germanic tribes across the Rhine into Gaul in 406. Among them were the Vandals.34E A. Thompson, The Huns, revised edn. (1996); W. Phol, The Vandals: fragments of a narrative, chapter in A.H. Merrills (ed.), Vandals, Romans and Berbers: New persectives on Late Antique North Africa (2004), p. 35.
Who were the Vandals? Pliny (writing c. 77 AD) and Tactitus (98 AD) tell us that the Vandili were a tribe in Germania.35Pliny, Natural History, book 4, chapter 28; Tacitus, Germania, section 2. Then we hear nothing more of them until they became a nuisance to the Romans. Or so it might appear, if we did not realise that the Vandals were split into at least two sub-groups - the Hasding and Siling - quite apart from the Burgundians, considered part of their confederacy by Pliny. Ptolemy places theSilingae roughly south-west of the Burgundians (Burguntae), who lived inland between the Oder and Vistula.36Claudius Ptolemy, The Geography, book 2,chapter 10. Ptolomy names the Lugi "below" (i.e. south or south-east of) the Siling. The Lugi vanish from the record in the 3rd century, probably overrun by the expanding Vandals. The name of the Siling is preserved in Silesia, a region now largely in South-West Poland, running along both banks of the upper and middle Oder, and extending eastwards to the upper Vistula. Most archaeologists today see the Przeworsk culture as the material manifestation of the Vandals, which would include the Burgundians. The Bastarnae or Peucini should also be included. Beginning in the the 2nd century BC, it spread south-eastwards between the Vistula and Oder, then in the 2nd century AD crossed the Carpathian Mountains to the upper Tisza River.37W.Phol, The Vandals: fragments of a narrative, chapter in A.H. Merrills (ed.),Vandals, Romans and Berbers: New persectives on Late Antique North Africa (2004), pp. 33, 34-5.
In 166 AD the Marcomanni of Bohemia crossed the Danube together with the Lombards and other Germanic tribes. The Emperor Marcus Aurelius led Roman troops in a long struggle to push them back. The Hasding came to his aid, in the hope of land in Dacia.38Cassius Dio, Roman History, book 72, chapters 11 and 12. In 271 AD they changed sides. Emperor Aurelian campaigned in Pannonia against barbarians who had crossed the Danube, expelling them from Roman territory.39Zosimus, New History, book 1; Epitome de Caesaribus, book 35, 2. Defeated bands of Vandals, including two kings and other leaders, made a pact with Rome.40Frank M. Clover, Introduction - Toward a History of the Vandals, in Das Reich der Vandalen und seine (Vor-)Geschichten, Denkschriften der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-historische Klasse 366; Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 13 (2008), p. 10. The Vandals settled on the upper Tisza were within striking distance of Dacia. Jordanes records that the Gothic King Geberich decided to enlarge his territory at their expense. He defeated Visimar, King of the Hasding, who was granted refuge in Pannonia by Constantine the Great. And it was from Pannonia that Jordanes says the Vandals and the Alans crossed the Rhine into Gaul. Jordanes treats the Vandals as a people endlessly battered by the Goths. According to him, Gothic victories over the neighbouring Vandals began when the Goths were still living around the Vistula.41Jordanes, The Origins and Deeds of the Goths, chapters 4, 12, 31. That initial warfare probably represents the Goths kicking off the Vandal yoke.42H. Wolfram, History of the Goths (1988), p. 40.
Under pressure from the Huns, the Vandals were joined by a mixed horde of peoples also settled in Pannonia and nearby, notably elements of the Suebi and a group of Alans, who were not Germanic, but Iranian-speaking descendants of the Scythians. As the confederation advanced towards the Rhine, their way was blocked by a Frankish army dispatched by the Romans. Thousands of Vandals died in the ensuing engagement, including Godegisel, the Hasding king. Yet under Godegisel's son Gunderic, the barbarian horde crossed the frozen Rhine in mid-winter 406/7 and plundered their way across Gaul. In 409 they crossed the Pyrenees into Iberia. There a peace treaty was negotiated with Romans in 411. The Alans did well out of it, receiving Lusitania (present-day Portugal) and the Mediterranean region around Carthago Nova. The Siling gained the rich southern province of Hispania Baetica, while the Hasding and Suebi had to be content with Galicia. Yet it was the Suebi whose kingdom survived and indeed expanded after the Visigoths set their sights on Iberia.43W.Phol, The Vandals: fragments of a narrative, chapter in A.H. Merrills (ed.), Vandals, Romans and Berbers: New persectives on Late Antique North Africa (2004), pp. 35-7.
The famous division between the Ostrogoths (eastern Goths) and Visigoths (western Goths) was actually an invention of Cassiodorus, faithfully repeated by Jordanes.44Jordanes, The Origins and Deeds of the Goths, chapter 14. While the name Ostrogothi (Goths of the rising sun) does appear in contemporary accounts from 392 AD, the other branch of the Goths was simply named the Vesi (the noble people). Since they are known to posterity as the Visigoths, that is the name used here. Most authors have assumed that these names correspond to an earlier geographical division on the steppe, the Greuthungi becoming the Ostrogothi and the Thervingi becoming the Vesi.45H. Wolfram,History of the Goths, trans. Thomas J. Dunlap (1988), pp. 24-25. However the disruption caused by the Huns broke up the old divisions and forged new alliances best viewed afresh.46P.J. Heather, Goths and Romans 332-589(1991), pp. 11-18.
On the death of Emperor Theodosius in 395 AD, the empire was divided between his sons. The Visigoths, led by Alaric, sensed the weakness of Rome and rose in rebellion. What they wanted was a homeland of their own. Alaric invaded Italy, while the timid Emperor Honorius fled to Ravenna. The story of Alaric's sack of Rome in 410 was recounted in horror by Procopius of Caesarea. Civilisation shuddered. Britannia was lost to the empire in the political turmoil that followed. Yet the wheel of fortune kept Italy Imperial, as Alaric died of disease in Calabria, and the army of the Visigoths under the leadership of Athaulf left for Gaul.47Procopius, History of the Wars, book 3, chapter 2. Jordanes puts the Gothic point of view, stressing that Honorius had promised the Visigoths Gaul and Hispania as their new homelands, and then sent General Stilicho to ambush them en route. The sack of Rome was the outcome. In fact Athaulf returned to sack it a second time, and captured the emperor's sister, Galla Placidia.48Jordanes, The Origins and Deeds of the Goths, chapters 30-31.
That gave him a considerable lever in a new round of negotiations with Honorius for Gaul, but once again they ended badly. Athaulf's successor Wallia made peace with Emperor Honorius and returned his sister to him. In return Wallia was granted Aquitaine in 417. Then he turned his attention to Iberia, intent on seizing the lands so recently settled on the Vandals and their allies. Wallia inflicted heavy losses on the Alans and Silings. The more remote Hasding and Suebi succeeded in holding out in the west. Subsequent gains by the Visigoths established a Visigothic Kingdom stretching from Aquitaine to the Atlantic. Though the Visigoths lost most of their Gaulish territory to the Franks in 507, they kept a firm hand on Spain until the coming of the Moors. (A rebellious Visigothic noble in 551 gave Justinian I the chance to take part of eastern Spain into the Byzantine Empire, but it was regained by the kingdom in the next century). Yet the incoming Goths must have been greatly outnumbered by their Romanised subjects. They succeeded by taking over the apparatus of government from Rome. The Goths had become Romanised themselves during their decades of allance with the Empire. One proof of this was their Christian faith. Yet their particular brand of Christianity - Arianism - caused conflict with their Catholic subjects until King Reccared I converted to Catholicism in 589. Henceforth the Goths would worship in Latin. This seems to mark the point at which at which the Gothic language began to drop out of use in Spain, along with Gothic fashions in dress and burial. Reccared styled himself as the successor to the Roman emperors.49H. Wolfram,History of the Goths, trans. Thomas J. Dunlap (1988); E.A.Thompson, The Goths in Spain (1969).
When Wallia's Visigoths defeated the Alans in 426, the Alan king was among the dead. So the surviving Alans in Iberia placed themselved under the banner of the Vandal king Gunderic, of the Hasding line. With his forces thus strengthened, Gunderic fought his way south to the coast before his death in 428. It was his son Geiseric who led the combined Vandals and Alans - some 80,000 people in all - across the Straits of Gibralter to North Africa in May 429. Only the Suebi remained behind. North Africa had been part of the Roman Empire since the Romans crushed Carthage in the Punic Wars. Geiseric seized Carthage in a surprise attack in October 429. This gave him a fleet with which to pillage across the Mediterranean. The plundering of Rome itself in 455 AD made the name "Vandal" a by-word for the destruction of culture to this day. Ironically the Vandals had learned to love the pleasures of Roman civilization. According to Procopius, this life of baths and banquets so softened their menfolk that they were no match for Byzantine forces. The Kingdom of the Vandals and Alans fell to Emperor Justinian in December 533.50W.Phol, The Vandals: fragments of a narrative, chapter in A.H. Merrills (ed.), Vandals, Romans and Berbers: New persectives on Late Antique North Africa (2004), pp. 37-47.
The retreat of the Goths across the Danube in 375 created an opportunity for their off-shoot, the Gepids. The Gepids had been determinedly kept out of Dacia by the Goths who first snatched it from the Empire. With the Goths in flight from the Huns, the Gepids could take Dacia, roughly the region now Transylvania. The price was subjugation to the Huns. 51I. Bóna, From Dacia to Erdöelve: Transylvania in the period of the Great Migrations (271-896), in L. Makkai et al., History of Transylvaia, vol. 1 (2001).
As a loyal vassal, Ardaric, King of the Gepids, brought his forces to support Attila the Hun in the Battle of Chalons in Gaul (451 AD). There the Gepids and the Franks clashed on the eve on the main battle, the latter fighting for the Romans and the former for the Huns, with 15,000 dead reported by Jordanes. Yet this close association put the Gepids at the forefront of resistence to the Huns after Attila's death in 453. As Attila's sons squabbled over the succession, each demanding his share of the subject nations, the enraged Ardaric rose against them. His revolt encouraged other oppressed tribes to join him in battle. They defeated the Huns at the River Nedao in Pannonia in 454. So the Gepids won themselves an independent kingdom in Dacia,52Jordanes,The Origins and Deeds of the Goths, chapters 38-41, 50. which they held for a century. They were evicted by the Avars (aided by the Lombards) in 556.53I. Bóna, From Dacia to Erdöelve: Transylvania in the period of the Great Migrations (271-896), in L. Makkai et al., History of Transylvaia, vol. 1 (2001).
The Ostrogoths fought on the losing side in the battle of Nedao in 454, though they did not care to have this embarrassment recorded for posterity. The vanquished sought refuge within the Roman Empire. The royal brothers Valamir, Thiudimir and Vidimir led the Ostrogothic warriors. The Eastern Emperor Marcian allowed them to settle in Pannonia in return for guarding the Imperial frontier- no easy task. The Ostrogothic Kingdom in Pannonia was insecure, and dependant on regular payments from Constantinople. Valamir had to revolt against Emperor Leo I to persuade him to continue financial support. In return his nephew Theoderic (the Great) was sent to Constantinople as a hostage. The boy was thus educated at the heart of Byzantine civilization. He was steeped in Romanitas.54H. Wolfram, History of the Goths (1988), pp. 258-62.
Under Theoderic and his father, the Ostrogoths abandoned Pannonia and pushed into the Balkans in 473. Theoderic settled in lower Moesia from 476 to 488. Then came his battle for Italy. Theoderic negotiated a treaty with Byzantine Emperor Zeno that allowed the former to rule Italy in the name of the latter, should he defeat Odovacar, King of Italy. The Western Roman Empire had sunk beneath the tide of barbarian invasions. The final blow came when the barbarian Odovacar was placed on the throne of Italy in 476 by the imperial federate army. Theodoric did indeed overthrow Odovacar to establish the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy.55H. Wolfram, History of the Goths (1988), pp. 268-84.
Like Reccared in Spain, Theoderic the Great modelled his rule on that of the Roman Emperors. Romanised himself, he slipped all the more easily into that role. It was almost inevitable that his army would proclaim him king of the Western Empire in 493. His Italian kingdom was rich and stable. Again like the Visigoths in Spain, the Ostrogoths were greatly outnumbered by their subjects. Theoderic posted his Gothic troops in endangered border regions, or as mobile units wherever needed. Essentially the Goths ruled by consent. After the death of Theoderic the Great in 526, in-fighting weakened the royal house. The assassination of his daughter Queen Amalasuintha in 535 provided the Emperor Justinian with a casus belli.56H. Wolfram,History of the Goths (1988), pp. 284-339.Procopius provides a detailed account of the long Gothic War (535-54) which brought an ignominious end to the Ostrogothic Kingdom.57Procopius, History of the Wars, book 5.
The Goths and Vandals had spread south-east from the Baltic as a folk-movement, bringing their Germanic tongue with them. Yet Germanic rule left almost no linguistic mark upon Iberia and Italy. Both to this day are dominated by the speakers of Romance languages, developed from Latin, even though Italy was to gain another Germanic elite in the Lombards. A foreign elite does not automatically impose its own language upon a much larger population. Where the incoming elite takes over an already established apparatus of government and bureaucracy, conducted in the majority language, there is little need for the ruled to learn the language of the rulers. Nor did the ruled need to learn a new language in order to worship. Latin remained the language of the Church of Rome.
In striking contrast, the Romans had created a legal system, a system of government and a bureaucracy, which rested upon literacy and education in Latin. This they exported throughout their empire. Once Christianity was adopted as the official religion, with worship in Latin, the dominance of their language was complete. It would become the key to achievement, to power and position, both lay and religious.
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