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Author(s) : Kazanski Michel (4/16/2008)
Translation : Makripoulias Christos

For citation: Kazanski Michel, "Goths",
Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Black Sea
URL: <http://www.ehw.gr/l.aspx?id=12394>

Goths (7/20/2009 v.1) Γότθοι (7/27/2009 v.1) Goths (7/27/2009 v.1) 

1. The origins of the Goths

The Goths represent a group of people speaking an East Germanic language, known in Roman antiquity and throughout the High Middle Ages. According to a legend reported by the historian Jordanes (sixth century), the Goths originally came from Scandinavia. In fact, this legend is rather telling the story of the charismatic Amal dynasty. In the first century A.D. the Goths, according to the testimony of Tacitus, lived in Central Europe, where archaeologist have identified as Gothic the “Wielbark culture”, in the Vistula basin and the south Baltic Sea coast. Apart from Goths, this culture also included other East Germanic people, such as Gepids, Heruls etc.

2. Expansion of the Goths

During the second half of the second century/first half of the third century, the carriers of the “Wielbark culture” advanced along the Western Bug towards the territories of modern Belarus and the Ukraine. North of the Black Sea and in the Lower Danube the Germanic people come in contact with the local people, the Scytho-Sarmatians, Geto-Dacians, and to a lesser degree Slavs, finally forming a confederation of Germanic and non-Germanic tribes under Gothic leadership. Beginning in the 240s, these barbarians wage wars against the Roman Empire. Originally they attack the Greek cities north of the Black Sea, then they devastate the entire Black Sea basin and the Balkans, but around A.D. 275 the barbarian threat recedes.

3. The division between Ostrogoths and Visigoths

During the third century the Goths are settled on the territories of modern Ukraine, Moldova and Romania, adjacent to the Roman Empire. It was at that time that the Goths were divided into two branches, the Ostrogoths-Greuthungi, under the leadership of the Amal dynasty, and the Visigoths-Tervingi, led by their own chiefs, but probably subordinate to the Amals. The former occupy the eastern territory between the Dniester and the Donets, the latter the western lands, between the Dniester and the Danube. The civilization of the Gothic confederation, the so-called “Cherniakhov culture” (or “Sîntana de Mureş culture”, according to the terminology of Romanian archaeologists), shows a very high level of Romanization among the Goths.

4. Visigoths

In 375-376 the Goths face an invasion by the Huns. The Visigoths are pushed south of the Danube, while the Ostrogoths remain in the Ukraine, under Hunnic domination. The Visigoths, by now in Roman territory, rebel against imperial administration and in 378 inflict a grave defeat on the Roman army near Adrianople. The new emperor, Theodosius, arrives to contain the Visigoths and drive them away from Constantinople. However, after his death the Visigoths cross over to Italy and in 410 they sack Rome. In 412 the Visigoths settle in Aquitaine and conquer the territory between Narbonne, Toulouse and Bordeaux. This marks the appearance of the Visigothic kingdom, which will survive in southern Gaul until the region is occupied by the Franks, who crush the Visigoths at the battle of Vouillé. The Visigoths retreat into Spain, where they form a kingdom with its capital at Toledo. This kingdom survived until the Arab invasion of 712. A series of necropoleis such as Duraton, Castiltierra or Madrona reflects the Visigothic civilization in Spain. This civilization testifies to the progressive integration of the Germanic population in the Western Mediterranean area, to such a degree that by the last third of the sixth century Germanic elements are no longer visible in the culture of the Visigothic kingdom in Spain.

5. Ostrogoths

After the death of Attila and the defeat of his sons at the battle of Nedao in 454 or 455 between the Huns and the rebellious Germanic peoples, the Ostrogoths cast off Hunnic domination. After Nedao the Ostrogoths move towards Pannonia and later, after a sojourn in the Balkans, they conquer Italy in 494-495, led by king Theodoric Amal. The Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy, with its capital at Ravenna, was one of the most powerful and influential Romano-Germanic kingdoms. In 535-555 the Eastern Roman Empire, under Justinian, fought a long war against the Ostrogoths, a war that ended with the fall of the Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy, followed by the deportation of the Goths.

6. Other groups of Goths

A further three groups of Goths were settled around the Black Sea region during the High Middle Ages. The so-called Gothi minores (“little Goths”) occupied the area south of the Danube; they were undoubtedly the descendants of Gothic foederati of the earlier period. According to Byzantine sources, they were a people of peaceful farmers; however, these Goths also performed military service and indeed were used as shock troops in certain sixth-century military operations. The presence of a group of Goths, clients of the empire, is attested for the southwestern Crimea, the territory of Doros, during the reign of Justinian. The remnants of this Gothic population survived until the fifteenth - sixteenth centuries, after which they were assimilated by the Greeks of the Black Sea and the Crimean Tatars. Finally, another group of Goths, the Tetraxites, inhabited the eastern part of the Crimea until the mid-fifth century. After that, roused by the Huns, they crossed over to the Caucasus coast of the Black Sea and settled in the area of the modern city of Novorossiysk. This Orthodox Christian group maintained contacts with Byzantium until at least the middle of the sixth century. The archaeological material coming from the Gothic necropolis of Djurso attests to their progressive assimilation by the Adyghe people (Circassians) of the Caucasus in the 6th - 8th centuries.


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