By Periklis Deligiannis
These Scandinavian warriors are almost identical with their Gothic relatives because of their unity of culture. The weaponry of the Scandinavians/Vikings was in fact originated from the arms and armor of their Germanic kinsmen in the main European continent , especially from those of the Eastern Teutonic tribes.
The Goths lived and fought in most parts of the European continent. From the dense frosty forests of Scandinavia and contemporary Poland, and the frigid Baltic Sea, to the warm civilized countries of Greece, Italy and the Mediterranean, and from the vast grasslands of Ukraine and the Black Sea to the Iberian Atlantic coast, their martial migration course is a truly unparalleled feat. Their Vandal brothers managed to colonize North Africa, while other Gothic branches settled in Britain (Jutes) and Asia Minor. The History of the Goths is one of the most exciting in general World History, while their admirable martial art brought the Dawn of Chivalry in Europe.
The modern theories on the ethnogenesis of the Goths are divided. The best known view (supported mainly by modern Teutonic historians and scholars) considers them of pure Germanic origins, originating from Gotland (“Land of the Goths“), i.e. modern South-Central Sweden and the adjacent long island of the same name. This view is supported by a number of medieval sources. However, there is also the theory (supported mainly by modern Slav historians and scholars) that the Goths and the Vandals were indigenous non-Germanic peoples of modern Poland, who adopted their Germanic language from a Teutonic ethnic element sparsely settled in their area.
Lower map: Germanic tribes circa 50 AD. The Goths (Gottonen), the Vandals and the Burgundians are noted.
Till the 6th century BC, the Lusatian culture prospered in the area of modern Poland. Climate changes and the invasion of the Scythians brought about the destruction of that culture and the slaughter of a significant part of the Lusatian population, until in its territory appeared the successor Pomeranian culture (established by the Lusatian survivors). In the 3rd century BC, the latter was succeeded by two new cultural ‘conglomerates’ which were formed again by the native Lusatian-Pomeranian people. This native population spoke an unknown language, possibly pre-Indo-European, but definitely neither Slav nor Germanic. In modern Northern Poland the descendants of the Lusatian-Pomeranian people formed the Oksywie cultural area while in Southern Poland they formed the Przeworsk culture. The peoples of both cultural (and probably political) entities were warlike as demonstrated archaeologically, and strongly Celtisized. There was certainly a limited Celtic colonization in the Przeworsk territory (by Central European Celts). It is believed that the Celtic colonizers merged with the indigenous population, forming the Celtic-Przeworian tribal union of the Lugii (known to the Greco-Roman sources).
None of the two aforementioned theories about the Gothic ethnogenesis can be proven definitely archaeologically, linguistically or by using any other method. Modern German scholars have pointed out the early community of toponyms of the prefix Got- in Scandinavia (Vagothen, Gauthigothen, Ostrogothae, Gotaalv, Gothiscandza, Gotland, Vastergotland etc.) and in Northern Poland (Gothiscandza, Gepedoios Island – from the Proto-Gothic people of the Gepids, etc.). The modern North-Polish cities of Gdansk, Gdynia and Grudziadz are considered to include the Gothic element in their name, because of their prefix Gd-, namely Got-.
No researcher refuses the community of toponyms of the prefix Got- in the Baltic Sea. However, the researchers who believe that the Goths are not of Scandinavian origin, aptly observe that this toponymic community does not indicate a migration from Scandinavia to the mouth of the Vistula River, but only that the Got-like toponyms and tribal names were common in both regions, because their inhabitants shared common cultural elements and nothing more. They also consider that the reference of the hypothetical migration from Scandinavia to the mouth of the Vistula in a number of medieval chronicles, is fictional precisely because of this misrepresentation of the community of the Got- place names already starting in the Dark Ages, or because of subsequent alterations of the texts. The majority of the modern researchers (Heather, Chukyn et. al.) consider that there is not sufficient archaeological evidence to reveal a Gothic migration from Sweden to northern Poland, except perhaps a few small groups. The same question exists on the ethnogenesis of the Vandals and the Burgundians : Germanic immigrants or Germanized natives of the Przeworsk culture? The earlier German researchers (mainly the ‘School’ of G. Von Kossina) pointed out the similarity of the two tribal names of those Eastern German peoples with the modern Scandinavian regions of Vendsyssel and Burgundaholm (hypothetically the modern Danish island of Bornholm) respectively, considering them as their homelands. Nevertheless, archaeology had denied their conclusions in those cases as well (the same researchers insisted that the historical Goths were Scandinavians originated from Gotland in Sweden).
Gothic and Vandal migrations.
Some modern scholars such as the expert in Gothic History Herwig Wolfram, seem to pursue the “middle ground” on the Gothic ethnogenesis. The Austrian Wolfram believes that the Goths were formed in modern Northern Poland, comprising both newly arrived Nordic/Scandinavian clans (who crossed the Baltic led by the ancestors of the historical Gothic dynasty of the Amals/Amali or Amalings) and native Oksywians. The Proto-Amals subjugated many other clans of Scandinavian newcomers and native Oksywians in modern Pomerania and Mazovia, and joined them in the tribal union of the Goths (or Gottones in the early Latin sources), together with some neighboring Balts (ancestors of the modern Lithuanians and Latvians). The Germanic language of the Scandinavian clans prevailed, while the Oksywie culture turned cutlurally to the new Proto-Gothic Wielbark culture. The Goths who remained in Scandinavia, evolved to the Gott tribes of Sweden and probably the Jutes (Gott, Jot) of Jutland (in modern Denmark).
During the 1st century AD, in the South of the Wielbark culture, a Germanic ethnic element began to penetrate the land of the Lugii (Przeworsk culture). It seems likely that it was a group of Goths (or Suebi) which was called possibly from the beginning as the ‘Vandals’. The newcomers were probably integrated peacefully into the tribal confederation of the Lugii, who seemed unable to evict them. Towards the end of the 1st century AD, this Germanic element most probably rebelled against the dominant Celtic aristocracy of the Lugii and overthrew it, possibly with Gothic or Suebic assistance. The scant of number Germans became the new rulers of the territory of Przeworsk culture whose population was gradually Germanized. In this way the tribe of the Vandals was formed, which is generally considered to be the closest relative of the Goths. At the same time, some Germanic tribes of the Wielbark culture like the Gepids and the Burgundians, were not incorporated into the Goths but remained distinct nations. The languages of the Goths, Vandals, Gepids and other related peoples belonged to the Eastern German branch.
Very soon the Goths began to push the Vandals. They clashed with them and the latter moved to the south, while the Goths migrated to the southeast. The Polish territory was evacuated and a few centuries later it was colonized by Venedi Slavs, ancestors of the modern Poles (Poliani =dwellers of the plain). Around 200 AD, the Greuthungi, the Turcilingi and other Gothic tribes settled in the modern Ukrainian steppe, where initially they clashed with the nomadic Sarmatians and finally integrated them into their tribal unions. The Terwingi and other Gothic tribes (bearers of the new Cherniakov culture of the 3rd-4th centuries AD, together with Carpians, Sarmatians and other peoples) settled west of the Dniester River and north of the Roman province of Dacia. Soon the Eastern Gothic peoples (dwelling east of the Dniester and up the Don River) began a number of disastrous sea raids via the Black Sea, wreaking havoc on the coasts of the Roman provinces of Asia Minor, Thrace and Greece. Simultaneously, the Western Goths (west of the Dniester) were conducting equally destructive land raids in the Balkan Peninsula. In AD 240, the Roman Emperor Gordian was forced to buy peace by paying ransom to the Goths, but with poor results. In 251 the Emperor Decius tried to stop them but he was defeated overwhelmingly and killed. The Romans won their first victory on the Western Goths when Claudius II the ‘Gothic’ crashed them in Naissus of Dardania (269) and recruited several of them for the Roman army. But this victory did not reduce the unbearable Gothic pressure in Dacia. The Emperor Aurelian was forced to withdraw the Roman garrisons from this province (271) because it was north of the Danube and could not be protected. Thereby the Goths overran Dacia.
Gradually two Gothic tribal confederations were formed. The Eastern Goths led by the Greuthungi, founded in Eastern Europe a multiracial confederation, which included Turkilingi, Heruls, Rosomonians and other Germanic tribes of Scandinavian origin, and Sarmatians-Alans, Proto-Slavs, Finns, Aestii (Finnish as well), Andes, Scythians et. al. They reached the peak of their power under the reign of the great king Hermanaric (about mid-4th cent.). The Western Goths led by the Terwingi and the Taifali Vandals, established their own tribal confederation, known as the ‘Gutthiunta /Gutθiunta’ (“Gothia, Goths”). The Gutthiunta included also Bastarnians (Bastarnae) and other Germanic tribes, Carpo-Dacians, Sarmatians (and other Northern Iranian nomads) surviving Celts etc., but it could not be compared to the enormous Major Gothic State of Hermanaric. But the Western Goths proved to be highly dangerous to Rome, continuing their devastating raids using Dacia as their new base.
Eventually the Emperor Constantine the Great managed to check them and finally defeat them overwhelmingly (331-332) exterminated many of them. Constantine admired the fighting spirit of the Goths recruiting thousands of them for his army, and accepting the rest as foederati (subject allies) of the Empire. Since 340 the Gothic bishop Ulfila began the Christianization of his compatriots, but as Arianists (considered as heretics by the Roman Orthodox Christians). In 364-369 a new war erupted between the Western Goths and the Romans. The Emperor Valens retaliated them, but did not achieve any significant results. King Athanarichos (Atanaric) was the greatest Western Goth personality of the 4th century.
The Eastern Goths used to raid rather rarely the Roman territories, being busy with the expansion of their power in Eastern Europe. The destruction of their unstable (as it was demonstrated) kingdom came suddenly when it was attacked by the “Asian horror”, the Huns (around 375). These Mongoloid nomads had already massacred a great part of the Sarmatians-Alans in the east of the river Don. Then they crossed the Don and trotted on the territory of Hermanaric. Many Goths were killed with beastly and gruesome ways when they tried to check them, among them the king himself. The Eastern Gothic tribal union collapsed instantly and was split into many small barbarian tribes which came under the control of the Huns.
The first Eastern Gothic refugees entered the territory of their Western kinsmen, announcing the advent of the Hunnish horror and spreading panic in the Gutthiunta.
Very soon the Union of the Gutthiunta was dissolved because of the Hunnish pressure and the disruptive trends that already existed. Most Western Goths fled terrified to the Roman frontier of the Lower Danube, where they requested to settle in the imperial territories (AD 376). The Emperor Valens settled them in Thrace with their obligation to engage in peaceful projects and to provide military service when requested. However, the corruption and the arrogance of the Roman officials, and the desire of the Goths for looting, prompted the latter to revolt and begin the plundering of the Roman territories. Many Roman citizens fell victims of the Gothic beastliness or were killed, and Valens hurriedly returned from Syria to deal with the rebels. The Goths who were enforced with many Eastern kinsmen of them, attacked the Roman army near Adrianople (378). While the Roman legionnaires assaulted the Gothic camp, they were suddenly attacked in the rear by a cavalry corps of Eastern Goths who were returning from a mission, and were massacred. A great part of the Eastern Roman army, possibly the greatest, was annihilated in Adrianople.
The Roman army paid a heavy toll in human lives confronting the Goths, starting around AD 230 . Eventually, the imperial army was manned by tens of thousands of Goths, Vandals, Gepids and other Eastern Germanic warriors, especially since the reign of Constantine the Great.
The injured Valens was burned alive by the Goths in his quarters. He was the second Roman emperor who was killed fighting against them. It was one of the most overwhelming defeats of the Roman army during its thousand-year history; a defeat analogous to those in Cannae, in Carrhae and in the Teutoburg Forest. Following their success, the Goths attempted to seize Constantinople but they were pushed back. However they unleashed new destructive raids on the Balkan Peninsula .
Until recently the modern historians used to believe that the historical Visigoths were the descendants of the Western Goths of Gutthiunta and that the Ostrogoths originated from the Eastern Goths of Hermanaric. During the last decades it was ascertained that these correlations were not correct. The Visigoth tribal union was formed around the time of the battle of Adrianople, possibly in the eve of the battle, when the Thervingi combined forces with a portion of the Greuthungi who had escaped from the Hunnish yoke and with other barbarian groups. The Ostrogoth tribal union was formed a few decades later (around AD 400) when the rest scattered Greuthungi and other Gothic-German and Sarmatian groups (namely the Goths of the Amali Dynasty and later the Goths of Theuderic-Strabo, of Radagaesus, some Alan groups and others) joined forces. However, most modern books, studies and disquisitions continue to use anachronistically the ethnic terms Visigoths and Ostrogoths for the historical events before 378.
I shall deal with the rest of the long history, culture and warfare of the Goths, including the Gothic conquest of Rome, in future articles.
(1) Wolfram , Herwig: DIE GOTEN: VON DEN ANFAENGEN BIS ZUR MITTE DES SECHSTEN JAHRHUNDERTS: ENTWURF EINER HISTORISCHEN ETHNOGRAPHIE, Muenchen, 1990.
(2) Wolfram , Herwig: DAS REICH UND DIE GERMANEN: ZWISCHEN ANTIKE UND MITTELALTER, Berlin, 1990
(3) Maenchen-Helfen Otto: THE WORLD OF THE HUNS, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, 1973
(4) Gerhard, Albert: GOTEN IN KONSTANTINOPEL,Muenchen.