The Goths (Gothic: Gutþiuda; Latin: Gothi) were an East Germanic people, two of whose branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Western Roman Empire through the long series of Gothic Wars and in the emergence of Medieval Europe. The Goths dominated a vast area, which at its peak under the Germanic king Ermanaric and his sub-king Athanaric possibly extended all the way from the Danube to the Don, and from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.
In the Gothic language of Ostrogothic Italy they were called the Gut-þiuda, most commonly translated as "Gothic people", but only attested as dative singular Gut-þiudai; another name, Gutans, is inferred from a genitive plural form gutani in the Pietroassa inscription. In Old Norse they were known as the Gutar or Gotar, in Latin as the Gothi, and in Greek as the Γότθοι, Gótthoi.
The Goths have been referred to by many names, perhaps at least in part because they comprised many separate ethnic groups, but also because in early accounts of Indo-European and later Germanic migrations in the Migration Period in general it was common practice to use various names to refer to the same group. The Goths believed (as most modern scholars do) that the various names all derived from a single prehistoric ethnonym that referred originally to a uniform culture that flourished around the middle of the first millennium BC, i.e., the original Goths.
The exact origin of the ancient Goths remains unknown. Evidence of them before they interacted with the Romans is limited. The traditional account of the Goths' early history depends on the Ostrogoth Jordanes' Getica written c. 551 AD. Jordanes states that the earliest migrating Goths sailed from what is now Sweden to what is now Poland. If this is accurate, then they may have been the people responsible for the Wielbark archaeological complex. Modern academics have generally abandoned this theory. Today, the Wielbark culture is thought to have developed from earlier cultures in the same area. Archaeological finds show close contacts between southern Sweden and the Baltic coastal area on the continent, and further towards the south-east, evidenced by pottery, house types and graves. Rather than a massive migration, similarities in the material cultures may be products of long-term regular contacts. However, the archaeological record could indicate that while his work is thought to be unreliable, Jordanes' story was based on an oral tradition with some basis in fact.
Sometime around the 1st century AD, Germanic peoples may have migrated from Scandinavia to Gothiscandza, in present-day Poland. Early archaeological evidence in the traditional Swedish province of Östergötland suggests a general depopulation during this period. However, there is no archaeological evidence for a substantial emigration from Scandinavia and they may have originated in continental Europe.
Upon their arrival on the Pontic Steppe, the Germanic tribes adopted the ways of the Eurasian nomads. The first Greek references to the Goths call them Scythians, since this area along the Black Sea historically had been occupied by an unrelated people of that name. The application of that designation to the Goths appears to be not ethnological but rather geographical and cultural - Greeks regarded both the ethnic Scythians and the Goths as barbarians.
The earliest known material culture associated with the Goths on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea is the Wielbark culture, centered on the modern region of Pomerania in northern Poland. This culture replaced the local Oxhöft or Oksywie culture in the 1st century AD, when a Scandinavian settlement developed in a buffer zone between the Oksywie culture and the Przeworsk culture.
The culture of this area was influenced by southern Scandinavian culture beginning as early as the late Nordic Bronze Age and early Pre-Roman Iron Age (c. 1300 – c. 300 BC). In fact, the Scandinavian influence on Pomerania and today's northern Poland from c. 1300 BC (period III) and onwards was so considerable that some[who?] see the culture of the region as part of the Nordic Bronze Age culture. In Eastern Europe the Goths formed part of the Chernyakhov culture of the 2nd to 5th centuries AD.
Around 160 AD, in Central Europe, the first movements of the Migration Period were occurring, as Germanic tribes began moving south-east from their ancestral lands at the mouth of River Vistula, putting pressure on the Germanic tribes from the north and east. As a result, in episodes of Gothic and Vandal warfare Germanic tribes (Rugii, Goths, Gepids, Vandals, Burgundians, and others) crossed either the lower Danube or the Black Sea, and led to the Marcomannic Wars, which resulted in widespread destruction and the first invasion of what is now Italy in the Roman Empire period. It has been suggested that the Goths maintained contact with southern Sweden during their migration. Goths also served in the Roman military and played a limited role, e.g. Gainas.
In the first attested incursion in Thrace, the Goths were mentioned as Boranoi by Zosimus, and then as Boradoi by Gregory Thaumaturgus. The first incursion of the Roman Empire that can be attributed to Goths is the sack of Histria in 238. Several such raids followed in subsequent decades, in particular the Battle of Abrittus in 251, led by Cniva, in which the Roman Emperor Decius was killed. At the time, there were at least two groups of Goths: the Thervingi and the Greuthungs. Goths were subsequently heavily recruited into the Roman Army to fight in the Roman-Persian Wars, notably participating at the Battle of Misiche in 242. The Moesogoths settled in Thrace and Moesia.
The first seaborne raids took place in three subsequent years, probably 255-257. An unsuccessful attack on Pityus was followed in the second year by another, which sacked Pityus and Trabzon and ravaged large areas in the Pontus. In the third year, a much larger force devastated large areas of Bithynia and the Propontis, including the cities of Chalcedon, Nicomedia, Nicaea, Apamea Myrlea, Cius and Bursa. By the end of the raids, the Goths had seized control over Crimea and the Bosporus and captured several cities on the Euxine coast, including Olbia and Tyras, which enabled them to engage in widespread naval activities.
After Gallienus was assassinated outside Milan in the summer of 268 in a plot led by high officers in his army, Claudius Gothicus was proclaimed emperor and headed to Rome to establish his rule. Claudius' immediate concerns were with the Alamanni, who had invaded Raetia and Italy. After he defeated them in the Battle of Lake Benacus, he was finally able to take care of the invasions in the Balkan provinces. Learning of the approach of Claudius, the Goths first attempted to directly invade Italy. They were engaged at the Battle of Naissus. It seems that Aurelian, who was in charge of all Roman cavalry during Claudius' reign, led the decisive attack in the battle. Some survivors were resettled within the empire, while others were incorporated into the Roman army. The battle ensured the survival of the Roman Empire for another two centuries. In 270, after the death of Claudius, Goths under the leadership of Cannabaudes again launched an invasion on the Roman Empire, but were defeated by Aurelian, who however surrendered Dacia beyond the Danube.
Around 275 the Goths launched a last major assault on Asia Minor, where piracy by Black Sea Goths was causing great trouble in Colchis, Pontus, Cappadocia, Galatia and even Cilicia. They were defeated sometime in 276 by Emperor Marcus Claudius Tacitus. In 332, Constantine helped the Sarmatians to settle on the north banks of the Danube to defend against the Goths' attacks and thereby enforce the Roman Empire's border. Around 100,000 Goths were reportedly killed in battle, and Ariaricus, son of the King of the Goths, was captured. The Goths increasingly became soldiers in the Roman armies in the 4th Century AD leading to the Germanization of the Roman Army by the time the Western Empire disappeared. The Gothic penchant for wearing skins became fashion in Constantinople, which was heavily denounced by conservatives.
Following a famine the Gothic War of 376–382 ensued, where the Goths and some of the local Thracians rebelled. The Roman Emperor Valens was killed at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. Following the decisive Gothic victory at Adrianople, Julius, the magister militum of the Eastern Roman Empire, organized a widescale massacre of Goths in Asia Minor, Syria and other parts of the Roman East. Fearing rebellion, Julian lured the Goths into the confines of urban streets from which they could not escape and massacred soldiers and civilians alike. As word spread, the Goths rioted throughout the region, and large numbers were killed. Survivors may have settled in Phrygia. Although the Huns successfully subdued many of the Goths, who joined their ranks, a group of Goths led by Fritigern fled across the Danube. Major sources for this period of Gothic history include Ammianus' Res gestae, which mentions Gothic involvement in the civil war between emperors Procopius and Valens of 365 and recounts the Gothic War (376-382). Around 375 AD the Huns overran the Alans and then the Goths. In the late fourth century, the Huns arrived from the east and invaded the region controlled by the Goths.
By the 4th century, the Goths had captured Roman Dacia which Aurelian had evacuated in 274 and divided into at least two distinct groups separated by the Dniester River: the Thervingi (led by the Balti dynasty) and the Greuthungi (led by the Amali dynasty). The Goths separated into two main branches, the Visigoths, who became foederati (federates) of the Roman Empire, and the Ostrogoths, who joined the Huns.
Both the Greuthungi and Thervingi became heavily Romanized during the 4th Century. This came about through trade with the Romans, as well as through Gothic membership of a military covenant, which was based in Byzantium and involved pledges of military assistance. Reportedly, 40,000 Goths were brought by Constantine to defend Constantinople in his later reign, and the Palace Guard was mostly composed from among Germanic peoples since foreign troops were less likely to rebel so far from home and also had less hesitation about using deadly force on the native population. The Gothic missionary Wulfila devised the Gothic alphabet to translate the Wulfila Bible and converted many of the Goths from Germanic paganism to Arian Christianity.The Huns fell upon the Thervingi, whose staunchly pagan ruler, Athanaric, sought refuge in the mountains. Meanwhile, the Arian Thervingian rebel chieftain Fritigern approached the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens in 376 with a portion of his people and asked to be allowed to settle on the south bank of the Danube. Valens permitted this, and even assisted the Goths in their crossing of the river (probably at the fortress of Durostorum)
The Goths remained divided – as Visigoths and Ostrogoths – during the 5th Century. These two tribes were among the Germanic peoples who clashed with the late Roman Empire during the Migration Period. The Visigoths were settled south of the Danube in 376. They kept to the treaty of 382 as federates of the Romans and sent troops to fight for Theodosius I during the civil war of 394 in which Eugenius and Arbogast, usurpers in the West were defeated. Alaric and his Goths ravaged Greece in the years 395-97. They moved west into Italy in 402. They were held in check but led by Alaric I sacked Rome in 410. Honorius granted the Visigoths lands in Aquitania after they savaged the Sueves, Alans and Vandals in 417. The Visigoths had taken over the south of France and most of Spain in the 470s.
The Visigoths, after the Sack of Rome (410) under Alaric I, were settled by the Romans in Aquitaine in 418 as foederati. Periodically they marched on Arles, the seat of the praetorian prefect but were always pushed back. In 437 they signed a treaty with the Romans which they kept. In 451 they provided one-third of the army of other tribes and Romans which defeated the Huns confederation of Eastern peoples led under Attila at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. They were led by their king Theodoric I in 451. They became independent of the Empire under his son, Euric who extended their territory over most of the Iberian peninsula and Gaul in the 460s and 470s. In 507, the Visigoths were pushed into Hispania by the Frankish Kingdom following the Battle of Vouillé in which the combined forces of Franks and Burgundians fell on them. They were able to retain Narbonensis and Provence after the timely arrival of an Ostrogoth detachment sent by Theodoric the Great. By the late 6th century, the Visigoths had converted to Catholicism. Their kingdom fell and was progressively conquered from 711 when the Muslim Moors defeated their last kings Roderic and Ardo (ruling until 724 over Catalonia and Narbonne) during the Umayyad conquest of Hispania. Some nobles found refuge in the mountain areas of the East Pyrenees and Cantabrian West and founded different autonomous realms, as Gothia, Pamplona and the Kingdom of Asturias in 718, they all began later to regain control under the leadership of the Visigothic nobleman Pelagius of Asturias, whose victory at the Battle of Covadonga (c. 722) it is taken to be the earliest at the centuries-long Reconquista. It was from the Asturian kingdom that some parts of modern Spain and Portugal evolved.
These Goths never became completely Romanized, as they became rather 'Hispanicized' and further became widespread over a large territory and body of population. They progressively adopted a new culture, retaining little of their original culture except for practical military customs, some artistic modalities, family traditions such as heroic songs and folklore, as well as select conventions to include Germanic names still in use in present-day Spain. It is these artifacts of the original Visigothic culture that give ample evidence of its contributing foundation for the present regional culture.
In the late 6th Century Goths settled as foederati in parts of Asia Minor. Their descendants, who formed the elite Optimatoi regiment, still lived there in the early 8th Century. While they were largely assimilated, their Gothic origin was still well-known: the chronicler Theophanes the Confessor calls them Gothograeci.
Christopher I. Beckwith suggests that the entire Hunnic thrust into Europe and the Roman Empire was an attempt to subdue independent Goths in the west. It is possible that the Hunnic attack came as a response to the Gothic eastwards expansion.
In the 4th century, the Greuthungian king Ermanaric became the most powerful Gothic ruler, coming to dominate a vast area of the Pontic Steppe which possibly stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea as far eastwards as the Ural Mountains. Ermanaric's dominance of the Volga-Don trade routes made historian Gottfried Schramm consider his realm as a forerunner of the Viking founded state of Kievan Rus'. Ermanaric later committed suicide, and the Greuthungi fell under Hunnic dominance.
In 454 AD, the Ostrogoths successfully revolted against the Huns at the Battle of Nedao and their leader Theoderic the Great invaded what is now Italy in 488 and settled his people there, founding an Ostrogothic Kingdom which eventually gained control of the whole Italian peninsula.
Under Theodemir, the Ostrogoths broke away from Hunnic rule following the Battle of Nedao in 454, and decisively defeated the Huns again under Valamir at Bassianae in 468. At the request of emperor Zeno, Theoderic conquered all of Italy from the Scirian Odoacer beginning in 488. The Goths were briefly reunited under one crown in the early 6th century under Theoderic, who became regent of the Visigothic kingdom following the death of Alaric II at the Battle of Vouillé in 507. Procopius interpreted the name Visigoth as "western Goths" and the name Ostrogoth as "eastern Goth", reflecting the geographic distribution of the Gothic realms at that time.
The Ostrogothic kingdom persisted until 553 under Teia, when Italy returned briefly to Byzantine control. This restoration of imperial rule was reversed by the conquest of the Lombards in 568. Shortly after Theoderic's death, the country was conquered by the Byzantine Empire in the Gothic War (535–554) that devastated and depopulated the peninsula. In 552, after their leader Totila was killed at the Battle of Taginae (552), effective Ostrogothic resistance ended, and the remaining Goths in Italy were assimilated by the Lombards, another Germanic tribe, who invaded Italy and founded the Kingdom of the Lombards in 567 AD.
In the late 18th century, Gothic tribes who remained in the lands around the Black Sea, especially in Crimea - then known as Crimean Goths - were still mentioned as existing in the region and speaking a Crimean Gothic dialect, making them the last true Goths. The language is believed to have been spoken until as late as 1945. They are believed to have been assimilated by the Crimean Tatars.
Before the invasion of the Huns, the Gothic Chernyakhov culture produced jewelry, vessels, and decorative objects in a style much influenced by Greek and Roman craftsmen. They developed a polychrome style of gold work, using wrought cells or setting to encrust gemstones into their gold objects. This style was influential in West Germanic areas well into the Middle Ages.
The Gothic language is the Germanic language with the earliest attestation, from the 300s, making it a language of interest in comparative linguistics. All other East Germanic languages are known, if at all, from proper names or short phrases that survived in historical accounts, and from loan-words in other languages. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a translation of the Bible. The language was in decline by the mid-500s, due to the military victory of the Franks, the elimination of the Goths in Italy, and geographic isolation. In Spain the language lost its last and probably already declining function as a church language when the Visigoths converted to Catholicism in 589). In pockets of Crimea, a related dialect known as Crimean Gothic survived up until the early modern period, and the 4th-century Bible translation was in use there until at least the ninth century. It is now an extinct language.
Archaeological evidence in Visigothic cemeteries shows that social stratification was analogous to that of the village of Sabbas the Goth. The majority of villagers were common peasants. Paupers were buried with funeral rites, unlike slaves. In a village of 50 to 100 people, there were four or five elite couples. In Eastern Europe, houses include sunken-floored dwellings, surface dwellings, and stall-houses. The largest known settlement is the Criuleni District. Chernyakhov cemeteries feature both cremation and inhumation burials; among the latter the head is to the north. Some graves were left empty. Grave goods often include pottery, bone combs, and iron tools, but hardly ever weapons.
Archaeology shows that the Visigoths, unlike the Ostrogoths, were predominantly farmers. They sowed wheat, barley, rye, and flax. They also raised pigs, poultry, and goats. Horses and donkeys were raised as working animals, and fed with hay. Sheep were raised for their wool, which they fashioned into clothing. Archaeology indicates they were skilled potters and blacksmiths. When peace treaties were negotiated with the Romans, the Goths demanded free trade. Imports from Rome included wine and cooking-oil.
Initially practising Gothic paganism, the Goths were gradually converted to Arian Christianity in the course of the 4th Century as a result of the missionary activity by the Gothic bishop Wulfila, who devised a Gothic alphabet to translate the Wulfila Bible.
The Ostrogoths (and their remnants, the Crimean Goths) were closely connected to the Patriarchate of Constantinople from the 5th Century, and became fully incorporated under the Metropolitanate of Gothia from the 9th Century.
The Gotlanders themselves had oral traditions of a mass migration towards southern Europe, recorded in the Gutasaga. If the facts are related, this would be a unique case of a tradition that endured for more than a thousand years and that actually pre-dates most of the major splits in the Germanic language family.
The Goths' relationship with Sweden became an important part of Swedish nationalism, and, until the 19th Century, the Swedes were commonly considered to be the direct descendants of the Goths. Today, Swedish scholars identify this as a cultural movement called Gothicismus, which included an enthusiasm for things Old Norse.
Gothic language and culture largely disappeared during the Middle Ages, although its influence continued in small ways in some western European states. As late as the 18th century a small number of people in the Crimea may still have spoken Crimean Gothic.
The language survived as a domestic language in the Iberian peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal) as late as the 8th Century, and Frankish author Walafrid Strabo wrote that it was still spoken in the lower Danube area and that Crimean Gothic was spoken in isolated mountain regions in Crimea in the early 9th century. Gothic-seeming terms found in later (post-9th century) manuscripts may not belong to the same language.
In Medieval and Modern Spain, the Visigoths were believed to be the origin of the Spanish nobility (compare Gobineau for a similar French idea). By the early 7th Century, the ethnic distinction between Visigoths and Hispano-Romans had all but disappeared, but recognition of a Gothic origin, e.g. on gravestones, still survived among the nobility. The 7th Century Visigothic aristocracy saw itself as bearers of a particular Gothic consciousness and as guardians of old traditions such as Germanic namegiving; probably these traditions were on the whole restricted to the family sphere (Hispano-Roman nobles did service for Visigothic nobles already in the 5th century and the two branches of Spanish aristocracy had fully adopted similar customs two centuries later).
In Chile, Argentina and the Canary Islands, godo was an ethnic slur used against European Spaniards, who in the early colony period often felt superior to the people born locally (criollos). In Colombia, the members of the Colombian Conservative Party were referred to as godos.
The Spanish and Swedish claims of Gothic origins led to a clash at the Council of Basel in 1434. Before the assembled cardinals and delegations could engage in theological discussion, they had to decide how to sit during the proceedings. The delegations from the more prominent nations argued that they should sit closest to the Pope, and there were also disputes over who were to have the finest chairs and who were to have their chairs on mats. In some cases, they compromised so that some would have half a chair leg on the rim of a mat. In this conflict, Nicolaus Ragvaldi, bishop of the Diocese of Växjö, claimed that the Swedes were the descendants of the great Goths, and that the people of Västergötland (Westrogothia in Latin) were the Visigoths and the people of Östergötland (Ostrogothia in Latin) were the Ostrogoths. The Spanish delegation retorted that it was only the "lazy" and "unenterprising" Goths who had remained in Sweden, whereas the "heroic" Goths had left Sweden, invaded the Roman empire and settled in Spain.