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European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes


MapGepids (Germanic)

The Germanic tribes seem to have originated in a homeland in southern Scandinavia (Sweden and Norway, with the Jutland area of northern Denmark, along with a very narrow strip of Baltic coastline). They had been settled here for over two thousand years following the Indo-European migrations. The Germanic ethnic group began as a division of the western edge of late proto-Indo-European dialects around 3300 BC, splitting away from a general westwards migration to head towards the southern coastline of the Baltic Sea. By the time the Germanic tribes were becoming key players in the politics of Western Europe in the last two centuries BC, the previously dominant Celts were on the verge of being conquered and dominated by Rome. They had already been pushed out of northern and Central Europe by a mass of Germanic tribes which were steadily carving out a new homeland.

One of the earlier groups to settle outside Scandinavia, the East Germanic Gepids found a homeland on the southern Baltic Coast, in modern Poland. During the first century AD they were neighboured to the north-east by elements of the Venedi and Aestii, to the east by the greater Venedi, to the south by the Scirii and the Goths, and to the west, across the Vistula, by the Rugii.

Sometimes known as the Gepidae to Roman writers, this tribe never came into particularly close contact with the empire. For about two hundred years from the first century AD, they were located on the eastern bank of the Vistula, with the River Bug forming a loose southern border. It seems likely that they migrated there alongside the Goths, to whom they were closely related. They followed the Goths on their slow migration south-eastwards, ending up in the Pannonian basin where they formed a short-lived tribal kingdom known as Gepidia. The capital of this kingdom was Sirmium (modern Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia), but Gepidia was destroyed by the Langobards in 567, effectively ending the existence of the Gepids as a recognisable people.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Germania, Tacitus, from Roman Soldier versus Germanic Warrior: 1st Century AD, Lindsay Powell, from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, and from External Links: Espadana-Walker.com (dead link), and A Theory of Civilisation, Philip Atkinson, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

c.AD 50

The Gepids arrive in northern Poland of the Willenberg, culture on the southern coastal region of the Baltic Sea, possibly alongside the closely-related Goths. The Vistula forms their western border with the Rugii, while the Bug may form a loose southern border with the neighbouring Goths. The arrival of this and other Germanic tribes probably pushes the Baltic tribes, and even the Aestii, further north and eastwards.

River Vistula
The Gepids migrated into Poland and occupied land to the east of the Vistula in the first century AD, close to their allies, the Goths


FeatureWriting at this time, Tacitus mentions a large number of tribes in Germania Magna. These tribes appear to be collected into four main divisions: the Ingaevones (in modern Denmark, and along the North Sea coastline especially); the Istvaeones (located along the Rhine); the Irminones (along the River Elbe); and the East Germanics (in the areas of the Oder and Vistula), which include the Gepids (see feature link).

The peoples who remain in Scandinavia are termed North Germanics by modern scholars. Tacitus claims the first three divisions are tribes which are descended from the mythical Mannus ('Man', or Homo sapiens), the son of Tuisto and the father of three sons who bear the names of these divisions.

c.150 - 200

Far from remaining settled where they are in Willenberg 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 Old Prussians and 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 Gepids, Rugii, and Scirii in their wake.

c.200 - 225

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

c.225 - 250

During this period the Goths continue to migrate south-eastwards, entering Moldavia and western Ukraine, while the Gepids enter the mountains of northern Transylvania. The Goths form a loose hegemony over the tribes of the region, almost certainly including the Bastarnae, and can perhaps include the Gepids as allies, or at least friendly neighbours. It is only at this time, once the tribe has wandered into a Roman sphere of influence, that the tribe begins to enter the historical record in any great depth.

fl c.250


First known leader of the Gepids.


The death of the leader of the Goths, Cannabaudes, at the hands of the Roman Emperor Aurelian precipitates a major shift in the balance of power in Eastern Europe. The Gepids take advantage of the power vacuum, moving eastwards into Goth lands. Their appearance drives a wedge between the Tervingi branch of 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 Rome as the Visigoths, while the Greutungi become the Ostrogoths.

c.376 - 453

The Ostrogoths, and by implication the Gepids on their western flank, find their domain wasted by the Huns. In the face of the Hunnic advance, the Goths crumble and are subjugated, as are their allies, the Rugii and Heruli. The Huns create a vast kingdom of their own which survives until the death of Attila in 453.


To preserve their new domains, the Visigoths fight on the side of Rome to halt the advance of the Huns at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in the former territory of the Catalauni. Atilia is aided by his own allies, which include the Gepids, Ostrogoths, Rugii Scirii, and Taifali.

It is Attila's first major defeat and it ends his reputation for invincibility. Ardaric is known to lead the Gepids at this time thanks to a reference by Jordanes, which calls him greatly loyal and the leader of a countless host of Gepids.

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

bef 451 - 460


Threw off the Huns. Died c.460.


MapEllac of the Huns is defeated and killed at the Battle of Nedao. The alliance that is responsible for his defeat is formed between Ardaric and other former Hunnic subjects. The defeat ends any presumption by the Huns to be the major power in the region. The Pannonian basin is occupied by the Gepids, a swathe of territory that is enclosed by the Carpathians and which today forms part of the territory of Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. Centred on the fourth century Illyrian and Celtic settlement of Sirmium, which had been Roman since the first century BC, the new kingdom is generally known as Gepidia. It greatly contributes to the renewed stability of the region, helping, in part, the Eastern Roman empire to survive the period of tribal migration.


fl 488/489



After the Gothic kingdom of Italy is destroyed by the Langobards, the fortunes of its mercenaries, the Heruli confederation, begin to wane. Some remaining Heruls join the Langobards and move to Italy, some form part of the Bavarii confederation in southern Germany, while others seek refuge with the Gepids and then the Eastern Romans.

fl 504/505



Gepid power suffers a decisive blow when the Ostrogoths in Italy cut off the expansion of the kingdom into the Danubian plains. This forces the Gepids to restrict themselves to the Pannonian basin. Around the same time the Gepid nobility converts to Arian Christianity, while the majority of the people remain pagan.

fl c.520?


Possibly usurped by Gelemund.


The throne is possibly usurped by Gelemund and, according to archaeological evidence that is interpreted by Istvan Bona in his work on the history of migration-era Transylvania, it seems likely that the king consolidates his hold on power by subjugating or removing many of his rivals. The archaeological record is useful for tracing the route taken by the Gepids, as they bury their dead with some or all of their armaments, which the Goths do not.

? - c.549

Gelemund / Elemund

Died of illness and the throne usurped.


Son. Forced into exile and killed in 552 by his Langobard host.


The death of Gelemund sees Thurisind grab the Gepid throne, and the former king's son and expected successor, Ostrogotha, is forced into exile. Thurisind's reign is marked by the arrival of the problematic Langobards, who are encouraged to take on the Gepids by the Eastern Roman empire which is eager to diminish the power of this upstart kingdom and perhaps regain its city of Sirmium.

c.549 - c.560


Seized the throne and faced the Langobard threat.


Son and heir. Killed in battle in 551/552.


Jordanes, a bureaucrat in the Eastern Roman capital of Constantinople, writes of the barbarian tribes in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, mentioning a wide number of them, including the Gepidae (the Gepids of the 270s) who dwell In the land of Scythia to the west. While Scythia is a broad term that covers territory between the modern countries of Ukraine and the borders of Tibet, the reference can be taken to mean that the Gepids have essentially remained where they had been at the end of the fifth century, occupying the Pannonian basin.

Pannonian basin
The Pannonian basin is a marked topographical low in central Europe which is surrounded on all sides by mountain ranges, making it ideally defensible


The Kutrigurs are enlisted as allies by the Gepids, whose kingdom is now under threat by the Langobards and Eastern Romans. They are ferried across the Danube either in 550 or 551 but Emperor Justinian immediately brings into action his own allies, the Utigurs, cousins of the Kutrigurs. The Utigurs request help of their own allies, the Tetraxite Ostrogoths of the Crimea. The latter invade the Kutrigur homeland, taking advantage of the absence of the main Kutrigur force of warriors, and the Kutrigurs are forced to abandon their mission and return to defend their homeland on the north-western shore of the Black Sea. Thurisind is forced to contract the Sclaveni (early Slav arrivals in the Balkan region) as backups, ferrying them across the Danube.


The expected battle between Langobards and Gepids arrives. The Langobards under Audoin decisively defeat Thurisind (either in 551 or 552) at the Battle of Asfeld. Turismod is killed during the fighting. Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian forces a peace treaty on both leaders in order to restore the equilibrium in the Pannonian basin (and prevent too much destruction to Sirmium, which he hopes to regain).

? - 567

Kunimund / Cunimund

Brother? Minted coins at Sirmium. Killed by the Langobards.


The Langobards have been granted subsidies by the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I, who encourages them to fight the Gepids. In effect, they are being hired as mercenaries, a role they fulfil to perfection. The Gepid kingdom is destroyed by 567 while their capital, Sirmium, reverts to the Eastern Romans. Kunimund's daughter, Rosamund, is forced to marry the Langobard king, Alboin.


The remaining Gepid settlements are destroyed by the Avars, forcing them to migrate south-westwards with the Langobards. They enter Italy where a Langobard kingdom is formed in the north, but the Gepids quickly lose any remaining tribal identity and are submerged within the Langobards as a whole.

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