History Files
 

 

European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes

 

 

 

MapGoths (Germans)

The Goths were the first of the Germanic tribes to form a recognised kingdom, although few records exist to describe either it or their earlier migrations other than brief mentions by Roman writers. According to their own traditions, the Goths originated in a land called 'Gothiscandza', identified as southern Scandinavia (modern Sweden). It was population pressure which caused them to move en masse towards the southern shore of the Baltic Sea. Exactly the same circumstances repeated themselves in the fifth century, when the Danes began to migrate from southern Scandinavia.

While there is little archaeological evidence to support the traditional Gothic origin story, it is generally accepted as being based on reality. The best source of information on the early Goths is the sixth century Byzantine historian, Jordanes. While his work is thought to be unreliable to an extent, the story of the Goths' origins is generally accepted. Once out of Scandinavia and on the Baltic coastline of northern Germany and Poland, they appear to have settled around the Oder and Vistula, before beginning a slow, steady drift into Ukraine, or Scythia as it was known to the ancients. The names of few early kings are known, and even they are thought by many scholars to be later inventions by Jordanes.

FeatureThe Goths were constantly attended by a subject tribe, the Heruli (who later emerged in Italy as part of the Gothic kingdom of Rome), and to an extent by the Scirii also. In their earliest stages, in Scandinavia, the Goths have been identified by some as the Geats of Beowulf, but this seems to rely solely on incorrect dating for the events of the poem. Edward Dawson considers there to be a distinct possibility that the Goth name emerged as a result of Gaulish influence on a tribal name that derived from Woden/Wodan (the god rather than the Anglian king, not necessarily one and the same thing). The use of Godan instead of Wodan by the Langobard tribe is very tantalising, given the known tendency of Gaulish to convert a 'w' into a 'gw or 'gu' sound. It seems possible that Wodan (Odin), Goth and God are cognates.

Not all Goths migrated into Continental Europe. Some elements clearly remained behind, or at least were influential enough to leave their name behind. Both Old Norse and Old English records clearly separate the Geats from the Goths, but they are still depicted as being closely related to each other, and perhaps may have shared a common origin. The Swedish counties of Västergötland and Östergötland remember the Geats and Goths, while the Norse kingdom of Vingulmark seems to remember the Vinguligoth of sixth century Byzantine writer, Jordanes. This group have also been linked to the first century Reudigni of Tacitus.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson.)

c.325 BC

As reported much later by Pliny the Elder, around this time Pytheas of Massalia undertakes a voyage of exploration to north-western Europe, becoming the first scholar to note details about the Celtic and Germanic tribes there. One of the tribes he records is the Guttonibus of Thule (nominative Guttones) - in other words the Goths. Thule is generally thought of today as being Norway, but has also been attributed to locations between Greenland and Saaremaa (Estonia), so a general designation of Scandinavia is preferred here. Whatever their exact location, the fact that the Goths have been noted at all shows that they are a very old tribe - one of the earliest German tribes to be noted in history.

Ptolemy's map of Britain
The details recorded by Pytheas were interpreted by Ptolemy in the second century AD, and this 1490 Italian reconstruction of the section covering the British Isles and northern Gaul shows Ptolemy's characteristically lopsided Scotland at the top

120 - 114 BC

A large-scale incursion of the sea into Jutland in this period is known as the Cimbrian Flood. It permanently alters the shape of the coastline and drastically affects the way people live in the region. It is probably this event which affects the Germanic Teutones in the centre of the peninsula (modern Denmark) and their northern neighbours, the Cimbri, enough to force them into a southwards migration. It may also be this event which begins a population shift in southern Sweden which itself eventually triggers the migration of the Goths into Central Europe.

c.100 - 10 BC

The migration of Goths from Sweden to the southern shores of the Baltic seems to start in this period. In 10 BC the Cotini are first mentioned in history, in the Elogium of Tusculum, an inscription found in the town of that name to the south of Rome. By the very existence of its Germanic name which has the same roots as that of the Goths, that tribe would appear to gain a Germanic warrior elite which would most likely be Gothic in origin.

AD 23

The first historical mention of the Lugii is by Strabo, who seems to place them as members of a tribal federation which includes the Butones (a questionable name, perhaps a misspelling of Gutones), Mugilones, Semnones, Sibini and Zumi.

c.50 - 150

Traditionally, King Berig leads three shiploads of his people from their homeland in southern Sweden to the Pomeranian region of later Poland. There, his Goths defeat the Rugii, driving them off, and also subdue the Vandali.

River Vistula
The mouth of the Vistula in the first century AD was ideal for settlement

The generally peaceful arrival of the Gothic people on the southern Baltic shores in the first and second centuries AD has a great impact on the Baltic population there, resulting in them moving towards eastern Lithuania. In all probability, due to the ethnic affinity of these peoples, peaceful relations are established. The appearance of various new groups of pottery testifies to the further merging of these ethnic groupings. The Scandinavian Willenberg culture which follows the line of the Vistula south from Pomerania replaces the native Oksywie culture and is the earliest archaeological evidence for the Goths. To their north are the Gepids, with the Venedi to the east, the Burgundiones and Lugii to the south, and the Suevi and Rugii to the west.

Berig

Leader of the Goths who left Scandinavia.

c.150 - 200

Far from remaining settled where they are in Poland, the Goths gradually renew their migration, now moving slowly southwards from the Oder and Vistula, heading on a path that will eventually take them into Ukraine. The migration could be caused by pressure from the Baltic tribes, early segments of the later Lithuanians, who are expanding back into territory they had lost to the Germanic tribes in the first century AD. The Goths appear to draw the neighbouring Gepids and Rugii in their wake, along with the the Scirii, who enter Galicia in this period.

166 - 169

The 'First Invasion' of German peoples across the Danube takes place, led by the Marcomanni. It penetrates into Italy and forces the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, to spend the rest of his life campaigning in the Danube region to contain the problem.

?

Name unknown.

?

Name unknown.

?

Name unknown.

c.200 - 225

Gepid and Goth migration is still apparently taking them across areas of central Poland, including Galicia and Silesia. Archaeology shows that the Weilbark Culture transfers south during this century.

Gadaric? / Gadareiks

Name uncertain.

Filimer

Son. Fifth generation king since the settlement.

c.225 - 250

During this period the Goths continue to migrate south-eastwards, entering what is now Moldavia and western Ukraine. They form a loose hegemony over the tribes of the region, almost certainly including the Bastarnae. The sixth century Byzantine historian, Jordanes, calls this new realm Oium, or Aujum.

Tanausis?

Name uncertain.

Gudila

Buruista

238

One of the earliest-known raids on Roman territory is when the Goths attack and sack Histria, a former Greek colony on the Black Sea coast which had been established by the Milesians in order that they could trade with the Getae. The empire itself is preoccupied with usurpation in Africa and conflict between the Senate and Emperor Maximinus Thrax.

Nidad

Ovida

Son.

249 - 250

The Goths attack Marcianopolis (Devnya in modern Bulgaria) and, under Kniva, sack several Balkan cities in the following year.

fl 250 - 251

Kniva / Cniva

Brother. Led the Second Invasion across the Danube.

251

Kniva and his Goths cross the Danube to raid districts of Moesia and Thrace - the first occasion in which the Goths appear in any detail in the historical record. Kniva is surprised by Roman Emperor Decius while besieging Nicopolis on the Danube. The Goths flee through the Balkans, but double back and surprise the Romans near Beroë (modern Stara Zagora). Then they attack Philippopolis (modern Plovdiv in Bulgaria), which falls into their hands. Its commander, Titus Julius Priscus, declares himself emperor under Gothic protection.

Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus Goth depiction
The Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus depicts a Roman victory over Goths around AD 250

The siege has so exhausted the numbers and resources of the Goths that they offer to surrender their booty and prisoners on condition of being allowed to retire unmolested. But Decius refuses to entertain their proposals and engages them at the Battle of Abrittus. Decius' army is annihilated and the emperor is slain. The Goths are eventually defeated by Aemilianus, Roman governor of Moesia Superior and Pannonia but are allowed (and even helped) to leave the empire.

267/268 - 269

The Peucini Bastarnae are specifically mentioned in the invasion across the Roman frontier. Part of the barbarian coalition which includes Goths and Heruli, they use their knowledge of boat building from several centuries of living on the Black Sea coast and in the Danube estuary to help build a fleet in the estuary of the River Tyras (now the Dnieper). The force of which they are part sails along the coast to Tomis in Moesia Inferior. They attack the town but are unable to take it. Sailing on, they are frustrated twice more, at Marcianopolis and Thessalonica in Macedonia. Athens is also attacked, captured, and plundered by the Heruli (in 267-268). Finally, they move into Thrace where they are crushed by Emperor Claudius II at Naissus in 269.

fl c.268 - 271

Cannabaudes

Killed by Roman Emperor Aurelian (270-275).

270s

The death of Cannabaudes precipitates a major shift in the balance of power in Eastern Europe. The appearance of the Gepids to fill the vacuum drives a wedge between the Tervingi branch of the Goths (led by the Balti Goths), west of the Dniester, and the Greutungi (led by the Amali Goths), east of the Sea of Azov.

The Tervingi consolidate their realm between the Dniester and the Danube, and become known to the Romans as the Visigoths. The Greutungi, or Ostrogoths, remain to the east of the Dniester, in eastern Ukraine and southern Russia.

Ostrogoths (Germans)

The Germanic Ostrogoths, or eastern Goths, dominated what is now southern Russia and Ukraine by the mid-third century, but they were forced west by the Hunnic invasion, and were later enslaved by those very same Huns. From this point until the death of Attila, nearly a hundred years later, little is known of the Ostrogoths. However, it is certain that the vast majority of them remained loyal vassals of their Hunnic overlords. They formed a significant contingent of Attila's army, and at the Battle of Châlons in 451 found themselves on the opposite side to their Visigothic cousins who were serving as allies of Aëtius, the Roman patrician. The Huns were effectively defeated, but it was not until Attila's death two years later that the Hunnic empire collapsed and the Ostrogoths were free to go on their way.

In the subsequent redistribution of power, the Ostrogoths (led by the Amali branch of Goths) found themselves in possession of Pannonia (roughly modern western Hungary, and parts of countries in a line from Austria to Bosnia) as Eastern Roman federates. But with hostile neighbours on all sides and an increasing dependence on subsidies from their new masters in Constantinople, Theodoric rose to become the leader of his people. He led them out of the unpromising lands in which they had settled and moved them into Moesia, close to Constantinople itself.

In the Old English epic poem Widsith the Ostrogoths are known as the Hreğ-Gotum or Hreiğgoths ('victory Goths').

(Additional information by Edward Dawson.)

fl c.270s

Respa

First ruler of the Ostrogoths following their division.

268

While probably prominent throughout the 270s, Respa is responsible for a raid in 268 upon which he is accompanied by Veduc and Thuruar. It is not entirely clear whether the latter two are co-rulers or deputies, as they are all lumped in together as kings by Jordanes. During the reign of Roman Emperor Gallienus, the Goths board their ships and mount a raid on the Hellespont. They lay waste to many cities and set fire to the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (now in Turkey).

fl c.270s

Veduc

Co-ruler or deputy during the time of Respa?

fl c.270s

Thuruar

Co-ruler or deputy during the time of Respa?

270s

Following this raid, the Ostrogoths drift out of the historical record for up to seventy years or so as they lay down roots and build the basis of the later domain of Ermanaric.

Ariaric / Ascaric

Claimed as king of Ostrogoths and also Visigoth co-ruler.

Aoric

fl c.317 - c.330s

Geberic / Geberich

Son of Ilderic. Claimed as king of Ostrogoths & Visigoths.

c.330s

The names of kings of the Ostrogoths and Visigoths contains at least two crossovers during the late third and early fourth centuries, suggesting perhaps that the divisions are not quite so divided after all until the coming of the Huns. It is possible, given the approximate dates for Geberic, that he rules both groups until the rise of Ermanaric re-establishes the division between Visigoth and Ostrogoth.

fl c.330s - c.376

Ermanaric / Ermanarich / Aírmanareiks

Killed himself as the Ostrogothic kingdom was overrun.

c.330s - 360s

Ermanaric (or variously, Eormanric, Ermanaricus, Hermanaric, Hermanerich, Jörmunrekkr, or Ermeric) is the great warrior-king of the Goths who subdues the surrounding Germanic peoples, subsequently leaving them to observe their own laws and rulers on the condition that they pay homage to him. By these means, Ermanaric becomes the head of a confederation which Jordanes, a bureaucrat in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople in the sixth century, believes to include all the tribes of Germany and Scythia, covering a vast territory in what is now Ukraine and areas of southern Russia. He calls the realm Oium, or Aujum. Included in this number are probably the Visigoths.

Ermanaric's death
In the face of an unstoppable and destructive Hunnic invasion, Ermanaric's final act was a (probably) ritualistic death ceremony in which he ended his own life

c.376

In extreme old age, Ermanaric finds his dominions wasted by the Huns. His strength is enfeebled by a combination of age and by a wound in his side, given to him by two brothers who have avenged a sister's cruel death. Pained by the destruction of all that he has built, he kills himself in the face of the Hunnic advance across eastern Europe (possibly in a ritualistic manner as his final act). The Huns subjugate the Ostrogoths and their allies, the Rugii and Heruli, creating a vast kingdom of their own which survives until the death of Attila in 453.

c.376 - c.380

Vinithar / Winithar / Vinitharius

Last free Ostrogoth ruler, now in Pannonia.

c.380 - c.405

Hunimund

Vassal of the Huns in Pannonia.

405 - 407

Radagaisus, a barbarian leader of unknown origin, and his army of Goths, Vandali, Suevi, Burgundians, and Alans is defeated by Roman commander Stilicho when they invade Italy in 405. The barbarians are incorporated into the Roman forces.

c.405 - c.447?

Thorismund

Vassal of the Huns in Pannonia.

447 - c.465

Valamir

Son of Vandalarius. Cousin of Thorismund of the Visigoths.

451

To preserve their new domains, the Visigoths fight on the side of Rome and the Franks to halt the advance of the Huns at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains (otherwise known as the Battle of Chalons in the former territory of the Catalauni Celts), in north-eastern Gaul. Their cousins, the Ostrogoths (literally, in the case of King Valamir whose cousin is Thorismund) are forced to fight on the side of the Huns. The Hunnic army is fought to a standstill and is forced to withdraw along with its allies which also include the Gepids, Rugii, and Scirii.

Attila the Hun
Despite his great success over the barbarian tribes of eastern and central Europe, Attila's stalemate against an allied Roman-led army in 451 was a blow to his prestige, and his death soon afterwards caused his empire to crumble

456 - 457

In their fight for independence from the Huns, the Ostrogoths under Valamir defeat and rout Attila's sons. They inherit control of Pannonia as a result (essentially western Hungary, northern Croatia, Slovenia, and eastern Austria), and absorb elements from other, smaller tribes, such as the Scirii. During the subsequent thirty years, the Ostrogoths edge slowly southwards into the Balkans, and then head westwards towards Illyria and the borders of Italy.

459 - 462

Unchallenged by the now-dissipated power of the Huns, the Ostrogoths under Valamir are themselves powerful. A dispute with the Eastern Roman emperor at Constantinople causes Valamir to lead his Ostrogoths against him. With the barbarians at the gates, Emperor Leo I agrees to pay an annual subsidy of gold.

468 - 474

Thiudimir / Theodomar / Theodemir

Brother-in-law.

474

Spending much of his youth at the imperial court at Constantinople, Theoderic gains a thoroughly Roman education. This includes the areas of administrative and military tactics, and he rises to become magister militum in 483 and consul in 484. He returns to live with the Ostrogoths in 488.

474 - 493

Theodoric the Great

Son. Became king of Ostrogothic Italy.

487

The Scirian commander of Rome, Odoacer, destroys the Rugii tribe, who are long-time allies of the Ostrogoths. This allows a future threat for Italy, the Langobards, to migrate into their territory in Lower Austria.

489

The Ostrogoths, now settled in Moesia and nominally Eastern Roman allies, are problematic at best. Their restlessness is creating increasing problems in their management for Emperor Zeno. Working with Theodoric to find a solution, the emperor invites him to invade Italy and overthrow Odoacer, the troublesome Gothic viceroy there. The remains of the Rugii join them and soon become indivisible from the Ostrogoths. The Ostrogoths immediately win the Battle of Isonzo on 28 August 489, close to Aquileia, and Odoacer is forced to withdraw. A second battle is fought at Verona in the same year.

490 - 493

A further battle is fought on the River Adda in 490, and in 493 Theodoric takes Ravenna. On 2 February the same year, Theodoric and Odoacer sign a treaty that divides Italy between them, but at a banquet to celebrate the terms, Theodoric murders Odoacer with his own hands. Now unopposed, he is able to found an Ostrogothic kingdom based in Rome.

Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy
AD 493 - 552

Theodoric led the Ostrogothic invasion of Italy (supported by elements of the Rugii). During the course of four years of fighting, the invasion swept away Odoacer's Post-Imperial Romano-Gothic kingdom. In its place Theodoric created an Ostrogothic kingdom which held much of Italy until Byzantium began a re-conquest of the western empire in southern Italy. Despite the fact that the invasion had been devised by Emperor Zeno, the Ostrogoths ruled independently, and Theodoric and Zeno addressed each other as equals. Overtures to Byzantium were only made by some Ostrogoth leaders after Theodoric's death.

A Roman consul was given nominal authority, and the two peoples lived together amicably, with Roman culture greatly influencing the barbarians. The Goths took one third of the land while the Romans retained the rest. Each side observed their own laws and intermarriage between Roman and Goth was forbidden. One area in which they didn't agree was in Christianity. The Ostrogoths were confirmed Arians, something that the Catholics of the Roman Church found hard to stomach.

Not all the Ostrogoths pursued this path into Italy and eventual Italianisation. A branch known as the Tauric Ostrogoths ventured further eastwards, ending up in Crimea by the end of the fifth century. They settled in the region and established an East Germanic Gothic principality which was later known as Doros. Additionally, some elements of the Gothic peoples in southern Germany formed part of the Bavarii confederation at the start of the sixth century.

493 - 526

Theodoric the Great

Murdered Odoacer at a banquet. King of the Visigoths (514-526).

490 - 497

Theodoric asks the Eastern Roman emperor for permission to wear the purple, but this is refused. After he seizes Ravenna and is proclaimed king of the Goths in 493 the position changes. In 497 Anastasius sends back the western imperial regalia which Constantinople had received in 476. Theodoric nevertheless continues to be titled rex.

Theodoric coin
An example of the coinage minted in Italy during the reign of Theodoric

500

Theodoric arranges a dynastic marriage between his sister, Amalafrida, and the weak Thrasamund of the Vandali. It is part of the process by which the Ostrogothic king is extending his influence through the various Germanic kingdoms of Western Europe and Africa. The arrangement ends Thrasamund's attempts to raid Ostrogothic territories, and the might of the ruler of Italy is underlined when a guard of 5,000 men arrive with Amalafrida.

504

Gepid power suffers a decisive blow when the Ostrogoths cut off the expansion of the kingdom of Gepidia into the Danubian plains. This forces the Gepids to restrict themselves to the Pannonian basin.

early 6th century

According to Jordanes, Roduulf rules the Ranii in Norway until, apparently despising his own kingdom, he flees to join Theodoric. There are signs of cross-European communications and some trading during this period, despite migrations and shifting tribal associations, so perhaps the idea of a Scandinavian king travelling to Rome to join the famous Ostrogoths is not so surprising.

509 - 526

Theodoric intervenes at Narbonne, driving out both Visigoths and Burgundians. This forces the Franks and Burgundians to withdraw from the Mediterranean coast. The following year the Ostrogoths defeat Gesalec in battle and he flees. After a year spent in Aquitaine to gather his forces, Gesalec makes another attempt to recapture Narbonne. He loses a second battle and is soon captured by the Ostrogoths. Theodoric assumes the Visigothic crown until his death in 526, nominally acting as regent for the infant Amalaric who is able to take his rightful place as king after Theodoric's death.

526 - 534

Athalaric

Grandson, aged 10. Son of Eutharic.

526 - 534

Amalasuntha

Regent and mother. Murdered by her cousin.

533

The last known decree to be issued by the Roman Senate concerns the practice of preferment, the purchase or sale of offices, which is rife in the Roman Church. The practice is banned under Pope Boniface's pontificate and confirmed by Athalaric.

534/535

Amalasuntha is imbibed with traditional Roman learning, and during the regency had tried to pass on her teachings to her son, Athalaric. With his early death she is now sole queen, and she raises the unpopular and elderly Theodatus as her co-ruler. The Gothic nobles turn against her, and Theodatus imprisons her on the island of Martana in Lake Bolsena in Tuscany, where she is murdered in her bath. Theodatus does not last long as sole ruler himself.

534 - 536

Theodatus / Theodahad

Nephew of Theodoric. Killed on the orders of Vittigis.

535 - 536

After the death of Theodoric, Ostrogothic control in Italy had never been quite so complete. The disruption has increased to such an extent that in 535 the Eastern Roman empire sends General Belisarius to conquer the peninsula and bring it back under imperial control. In 536, General Belisarius enters Rome shortly before it is besieged by King Vittigis. The city suffers starvation until the siege is lifted and Belisarius pursues his opponents. The Goths are subjugated in the same year, and around this time Provence is lost to Italian control, with probably the Burgundians being responsible.

536 - 540

Vittigis / Witiges

Son-in-law of Amalasuntha. Fled to Ravenna in 536. Killed 540.

540

Theobald / Theodobald

May not have ruled, and may in fact be Theodatus.

540

There is a bewildering succession of rulers in this period and Theobald is perhaps the most uncertain. He is sometimes claimed as ruling between 536, shortly after his murder of Amalasuntha, to 540, or just in 540 alone. He is presumed to have entered Italy with Theodoric and must be fairly elderly by this time, and his rule is cut short when he is killed by a fellow Goth (claimed as being Vittigis, which somewhat confuses matters as the pair of them would appear to have been simultaneously ruling as sole king. This may be due to some confusion creeping in between Theobald and Theodatus).

540 - 541

Ildibad / Hildebad

A Visigoth. Killed by a Gepid at a palace banquet.

541

Eraric

Killed by one of his royal guard, as plotted by Baduila.

541 - 552

Totila / Baduila / Baduela

A strong leader. Killed at the Battle of Taginae.

541

At last blessed with a strong and determined ruler once again, the Ostrogoths under Baduila immediately collect together to throw off a badly organised Byzantine attack on their stronghold at Verona. Baduila is determined to win back control of Italy in the face of the creeping Byzantine conquest.

542 - 544

The Ostrogoths win the Battle of Faventia (modern Faenza) in spring 542, but very quickly an even greater success aids them. Shortly after the 'Plague of Justinian' strikes Constantinople with the arrival of bubonic plague, it quickly spreads to Italy. The Byzantine empire is devastated by it, and is critically weakened at the point at which it is about to conquer all of Italy and bring it under the rule of one Roman emperor for the first time since 395.

Siege of Perugia
Baduila besieged Perugia in 543 and successfully won the town's surrender

545 - 546

After sacking and razing the walls of Benevento in 545, the following year the Ostrogoths recapture Rome under the leadership of Baduila (his real name rather than the Byzantine version, Totila, which is coined by Procopius). An attempt by the much larger Byzantine forces to relieve it narrowly fails and it is sacked by the otherwise merciful and disciplined Ostrogoths. However, they withdraw to Apulia and the see-saw battles continue, with the Ostrogoths generally avoiding the strongly-defended cities.

552 - 553

Teias / Theia / Teja

Former military officer. Last king of the Ostrogoths. Killed.

552

The death of Totila at the Battle of Taginae allows Rome to be retaken by Byzantium, which governs Italy from Ravenna. A final defeat in battle near Mount Vesuvius in 553 means the death of the last Ostrogothic king and the end of their rule in Italy. The city of Rome remains under domination by Byzantium until the eighth century but a civil government slowly emerges to take control of Roman regional affairs in the late ninth century, often vying for power with the pope

The Ostrogoths as a fighting body march out of Italy to join other barbarian groups north of the Alps, most probably the Bavarii confederation, where they quickly lose their identity as a separate people. Their Rugii supporters also disappear at this time, probably following the Ostrogoths to join the confederation which already contains Rugii elements. In Italy, an Ostrogothic noble called Widin leads a revolt in the late 550s, but he is captured in 561 or 562. The remaining Goths in the country eventually merge into the general Italian population, becoming indivisible from them. However, the Visigoths and Tauric Ostrogoths still retain an independent identity.