The History of the Goths

The Goths were an Eastern Germanic tribe that might have originated on the island of Gotland (pertaining to Götaland, in modern day Sweden) in the Baltic Sea. They spoke the Gothic language, an extinct East Germanic language that mostly faded away by the 9th century AD. They were referred to as ‘Gutar/Gotar’ in Old Norse (highlighting their possible Swedish origin) and ‘Gothi’ in Latin texts.

They are known to have later on migrated from southern Scandinavia (if they indeed originated there) to Central, Western and Southeastern Europe during late Antiquity to the early Middle Ages. The Goths were divided during the transition between late Antiquity and the Dark Ages into two separate branches, namely the Visigoths (also known as the West Goths), who settled much of modern day Romania during the 2nd century AD, and the Ostrogoths (also known as the East Goths) who settled far eastward on the Black Sea coast in modern day Ukraine.

Artistic depiction of a group of Visigoths fighting. Image source: www.ximene.net

Artistic depiction of a group of Visigoths fighting. Image source: www.ximene.net

They were known to the Romans as early as the 1st century AD and subsequently left Eastern Europe during the invasions of the Huns. Thus, in around 376 AD the Visigoths were driven from modern day Romania by the Huns (who originated in Central Asia) and had no alternative but to move southward across the course of the river Danube.

Then, they engaged in a series of skirmishes with the Roman Empire, defeating a Roman legion in Constantinople and eventually sacking Rome at the round of the 5th century AD under their king Alaric I. After sacking Rome, the Goths migrated into Gaul, where they were given land by the Romans in southwest. From southwestern Gaul, they managed to secure rulership over much of modern day Spain and Portugal.

Artistic depiction of king Alaric I entering Athens. Image source: www.wikipedia.org

An early 20th century artistic depiction of king Alaric I entering Athens. Image source: www.wikipedia.org

The Ostrogoths freed themselves from the rule of the Huns and migrated in modern day Italy during the 5th century. Under king Theodoric the Great, the Goths secured their conquest of modern Italy during the late part of the 5th century.

'Gutthiuda' - the land of the Goths in Eastern Europe, nowadays corresponding to much of modern day Romania. Image source: www.wikipedia.org

‘Gutthiuda’ – the land of the Goths in Eastern Europe, nowadays corresponding to much of modern day Romania. Image source: www.wikipedia.org

Nonetheless, the kingdom of Theodoric the Great did not last long, as during the early 6th century the Byzantines sought to reconquer the newly acquired territorial possessions by the Goths. So it was that in 552 the Ostrogoths were defeated by the Byzantines and were ultimately driven out of the Italian peninsula.

The fewer Ostrogoths who resided in the north of modern day Italy were subsequently assimilated by the Lombards during the remainder of the 6th century. However, the kingdom of the Visigoths managed to exist until the beginning of the 8th century, in stark contrast to that of the Ostrogoths.

Greatest territorial extent of the Gothic kingdoms during the early Middle Ages in Western and Eastern Europe. Image source: www.civilization-v-customisation.wikia.com

Greatest territorial extent of the Gothic kingdoms during the early Middle Ages in Western and Eastern Europe. Image source: www.civilization-v-customisation.wikia.com

In a nutshell, the Goths are reputed for being the first migratory people to sack Rome and thereby triggering the fall of Rome and thus marking the transition from late Antiquity to the Dark Ages. Nevertheless, given the fact that they respected and admired Roman culture, they didn’t seem to influence the early stages of development of the modern Romance languages (i.e. Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French or Romanian).

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