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An article from the
1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
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Goths (Gotones, later Gothi), a Teutonic people who in the 1st century of the Christian era appear to have inhabited the middle part of the basin of the Vistula. They were probably the easternmost of the Teutonic peoples. According to their own traditions as recorded by Jordanes, they had come originally from the island Scandza, i.e. Skåne or Sweden, under the leadership of a king named Berig, and landed first in a region called Gothiscandza. Thence they invaded the territories of the Ulmerugi (the Holmryge of Anglo-Saxon tradition), probably in the neighbourhood of Rügenwalde in eastern Pomerania, and conquered both them and the neighbouring Vandals. Under their sixth king Filimer they migrated into Scythia and settled in a district which they called Oium. The rest of their early history, as it is given by Jordanes following Cassiodorus, is due to an erroneous identification of the Goths with the Getae, anº ancient Thracian people.
The credibility of the story of the migration from Sweden has been much discussed by modern authors. The legend was not peculiar to the Goths, similar traditions being current among the Langobardi, the Burgundians, and apparently several other Teutonic nations. It has been observed with truth that so many populous nations can hardly have sprung from the Scandinavian peninsula; on the other hand, the existence of these traditions certainly requires some explanation. Possibly, however, many of the royal families may have contained an element of Scandinavian blood, a hypothesis which would well accord with the social conditions of the migration period, as illustrated, e.g., in Völsunga Saga and in Hervarar Saga ok Heipreks Konungs. In the case of the Goths a connexion with Gotland is not unlikely, since it is clear from archaeological evidence that this island had an extensive trade with the coasts about the mouth of the Vistula in early times. If, however, there was any migration at all, one would rather have expected it to have taken place in the reverse direction. For the origin of the Goths can hardly be separated from that of the Vandals, whom according to Procopius they resembled in language and in all other respects. Moreover the Gepidae, another Teutonic people, who are said to have formerly inhabited the delta of the Vistula, also appear to have been closely connected with the Goths. According to Jordanes they participated in the migration from Scandza.
Apart from a doubtful reference by Pliny to a statement of the early traveller Pytheas, the first notices we have of the Goths go back to the first years of the Christian era, at which time they seem to have been subject to the Marcomannic king Maroboduus. They do not enter into Roman history, however, until after the beginning of the 3rd century, at which time they appear to have come in conflict with the emperor Caracalla. During this century their frontier seems to have been advanced considerably farther south, and the whole country as far as the lower Danube was frequently ravaged by them. The emperor Gordianus is called "victor Gothorum" by Capitolinus, though we have no record of the ground for the claim, and further conflicts are recorded with his successors, one of whom, Decius, was slain by the Goths in Moesia. According to Jordanes the kings of the Goths during these campaigns were Ostrogotha and afterwards Cniva, the former of whom is praised also in the Anglo-Saxon poem Widsith. The emperor Gallus was forced to pay tribute to the Goths. By this time they had reached the coasts of the Black Sea, and during the next twenty years they frequently ravaged the maritime regions of Asia Minor and Greece. Aurelian is said to have won a victory over them, but the province of Dacia had to be given up. In the time of Constantine the Great Thrace and Moesia were again plundered by the Goths, A.D. 321. Constantine drove them back and concluded peace with their king Ariaric in 336. From the end of the 3rd century we hear of subdivisions of the nation called Greutungi, Teruingi, Austrogothi (Ostrogothi), Visigothi, Taifali, though it is not clear whether these were all distinct.
Though by this time the Goths had extended their territories p273 far to the south and east, it must not be assumed that they had evacuated their old lands on the Vistula. Jordanes records several traditions of their conflicts with other Teutonic tribes, in particular a victory won by Ostrogotha over Fastida, king of the Gepidae, and another by Geberic over Visimar, king of the Vandals, about the end of Constantine's reign, in consequence of which the Vandals sought and obtained permission to settle in Pannonia. Geberic was succeeded by the most famous of the Gothic kings, Hermanaric (Eormenric, Iörmunrekr), whose deeds are recorded in the traditions of all Teutonic nations. According to Jordanes he conquered the Heruli, the Aestii, the Venedi, and a number of other tribes who seem to have been settled in the southern part of Russia. From Anglo-Saxon sources it seems probable that his supremacy reached westwards as far as Holstein. He was of a cruel disposition, and is said to have killed his nephews Embrica (Emerca) and Fritla (Fridla) in order to obtain the great treasure which they possessed. Still more famous is the story of Suanihilda (Svanhildr), who according to Northern tradition was his wife and was cruelly put to death on a false charge of unfaithfulness. An attempt to avenge her death was made by her brothers Ammius (Hampir) and Sarus (Sörli) by whom Hermanaric was severely wounded. To his time belong a number of other heroes whose exploits are recorded in English and Northern tradition, amongst whom we may mention Wudga (Vidigoia), Hama and several others, who in Widsith are represented as defending their country against the Huns in the forest of the Vistula. Hermanaric committed suicide in his distress at an invasion of the Huns about A.D. 370, and the portion of the nation called Ostrogoths then came under Hunnish supremacy. The Visigoths obtained permission to cross the Danube and settle in Moesia. A large part of the nation became Christian about this time (see below). The exactions of the Roman governors, however, soon led to a quarrel, which ended in the total defeat and death of Valens at Adrianople in the year 378.
[F. G. M. B.]
From about 370 the history of the East and West Goths parts asunder, to be joined together again only incidentally and for a season. The great mass of the East Goths stayed north of the Danube, and passed under the overlordship of the Hun. They do not for the present play any important part in the affairs of the Empire. The great mass of the West Goths crossed the Danube into the Roman provinces, and there played a most important part in various characters of alliance and enmity. The great migration was in 376, when they were allowed to pass as peaceful settlers under their chief Frithigern. His rival Athanaric seems to have tried to maintain his party for a while north of the Danube in defiance of the Huns; but he had presently to follow the example of the great mass of the nation. The peaceful designs of Frithigern were meanwhile thwarted by the ill-treatment which the Goths suffered from the Roman officials, which led first to disputes and then to open war. In 378 the Goths won the great battle of Adrianople, and after this Theodosius the Great, the successor of Valens, made terms with them in 381, and the mass of the Gothic warriors entered the Roman service as foederati. Many of their chiefs were in high favour; but it seems that the orthodox Theodosius showed more favour to the still remaining heathen party among the Goths than to the larger part of them who had embraced Arian Christianity. Athanaric himself came to Constantinople in 381; he was received with high honours, and had a solemn funeral when he died. His saying is worth recording, as an example of the effect which Roman civilization had on the Teutonic mind. "The emperor," he said, "was a god upon earth, and he who resisted him would have his blood on his own head."
The death of Theodosius in 395 broke up the union between the West Goths and the Empire. Dissensions arose between them and the ministers of Arcadius; the Goths threw off their allegiance, and chose Alaric as their king. This was a restoration alike of national unity and of national independence. The royal title had not been borne by their leaders in the Roman service. Alaric's position is quite different from that of several Goths in the Roman service, who appear as simple rebels. He was of the great West Gothic house of the Balthi, or Bold-men, a house second in nobility only to that of the Amali. His whole career was taken up with marchings to and fro within the lands, first of the Eastern, then of the Western empire. The Goths are under him an independent people under a national king; their independence is in no way interfered with if the Gothic king, in a moment of peace, accepts the office and titles of a Roman general. But under Alaric the Goths make no lasting settlement. In the long tale of intrigue and warfare between the Goths and the two imperial courts which fills up this whole time, cessions of territory are offered to the Goths, provinces are occupied by them, but as yet they do not take root anywhere; no Western land as yet becomes Gothia. Alaric's designs of settlement seem in his first stage to have still kept east of the Adriatic, in Illyricum, possibly in Greece. Towards the end of his career his eyes seem fixed on Africa.
Greece was the scene of his great campaign in 395‑96, the second Gothic invasion of that country. In this campaign the religious position of the Goths is strongly marked. The Arian appeared as an enemy alike to the pagan majority and the Catholic minority; but he came surrounded by monks, and his chief wrath was directed against the heathen temples (vide G. F. Hertzberg, Geschichte Griechenlands, III.391). His Italian campaigns fall into two great divisions, that of 402‑3, when he was driven back by Stilicho, and that of 408‑10, after Stilicho's death. In this second war he thrice besieged Rome (408, 409, 410). The second time it suited a momentary policy to set up a puppet emperor of his own, and even to accept a military commission from him. The third time he sacked the city, the first time since Brennus that Rome had been taken by an army of utter foreigners. The intricate political and military details of these campaigns are of less importance in the history of the Gothic nation than the stage which Alaric's reign marks in the history of that nation. It stands between two periods of settlement within the Empire and of service under the Empire. Under Alaric there is no settlement, and service is quite secondary and precarious; after his death in 410 the two begin again in new shapes.
Contemporary with the campaigns of Alaric was a barbarian invasion of Italy, which, according to one view, again brings the East and West Goths together. The great mass of the East Goths, as has been already said, became one of the many nations which were under vassalage to the Huns; but their relation was one merely of vassalage. They remained a distinct people under kings of their own, kings of the house of the Amali and of the kindred of Ermanaric (Jordanes, 48). They had to follow the lead of the Huns in war, but they were also able to carry on wars of their own; and it has been held that among these separate East Gothic enterprises we are to place the invasion of Italy in 405 by Radagaisus (whom R. Pallmann1 writes as Ratiger, and takes him for the chief of the heathen part of the East Goths). One chronicler, Prosper, makes this invasion preceded by another in 400, in which Alaric and Radagaisus appear as partners. The paganism of Radagaisus is certain. The presence of Goths in his army is certain, but it seems dangerous to infer that his invasion was a national Gothic enterprise.
Under Ataulphus, the brother-in‑law and successor of Alaric, another era opens, the beginning of enterprises which did in the end lead to the establishment of a settled Gothic monarchy in the West. The position of Ataulphus is well marked by the speech put into his mouth by Orosius. He had at one time dreamed of destroying the Roman power, of turning Romania into Gothia, and putting Ataulphus in the stead of Augustus; but he had learned that the world could be governed only by the laws of Rome and he had determined to use the Gothic arms for the support of the Roman power. And in the confused and contradictory accounts of his actions (for the story in Jordanes cannot be reconciled with the accounts in Olympiodorus and the chroniclers), we can see something of this principle at work throughout. Gaul and Spain were overrun both by barbarian p274 invaders and by rival emperors. The sword of the Goth was to win back the last lands for Rome. And, amid many shiftings of allegiance, Ataulphus seems never to have wholly given up the position of an ally of the Empire. His marriage with Placidia, the daughter of the great Theodosius, was taken as the seal of the union between Goth and Roman, and, had their son Theodosius lived, a dynasty might have arisen uniting both claims. But the career of Ataulphus was cut short at Barcelona in 415, by his murder at the hands of another faction of the Goths. The reign of Sigeric was momentary. Under Wallia in 418 a more settled state of things was established. The Empire received again, as the prize of Gothic victories, the Tarraconensis in Spain, and Novempopulana and the Narbonensis in Gaul. The "second Aquitaine," with the sea-coast from the mouth of the Garonne to the mouth of the Loire, became the West Gothic kingdom of Toulouse. The dominion of the Goths was now strictly Gaulish; their lasting Spanish dominion does not yet begin.
The reign of the first West Gothic Theodoric (419‑451) shows a shifting state of relations between the Roman and Gothic powers; but, after defeats and successes both ways, the older relation of alliance against common enemies was again established. At last Goth and Roman had to join together against the common enemy of Europe and Christendom, Attila the Hun. But they met Gothic warriors in his army. By the terms of their subjection to the Huns, the East Goths came to fight for Attila against Christendom at Châlons, just as the Servians came to fight for Bajazet against Christendom at Nicopolis. Theodoric fell in the battle (451). After this momentary meeting, the history of the East and West Goths again separates for a while. The kingdom of Toulouse grew within Gaul at the expense of the Empire, and in Spain at the expense of the Suevi. Under Euric (466‑485) the West Gothic power again became largely a Spanish power. The kingdom of Toulouse took in nearly all Gaul south of the Loire and west of the Rhone, with all Spain, except the north-west corner, which was still held by the Suevi. Provence alone remained to the Empire. The West Gothic kings largely adopted Roman manners and culture; but, as they still kept to their original Arian creed, their rule never became thoroughly acceptable to their Catholic subjects. They stood, therefore, at a great disadvantage when a new and aggressive Catholic power appeared in Gaul through the conversion of the Frank Clovis or Chlodwig. Toulouse was, as in days long after, the seat of an heretical power, against which the forces of northern Gaul marched as on a crusade. In 507 the West Gothic king Alaric II fell before the Frankish arms at Campus Vogladensis,º near Poitiers, and his kingdom, as a great power north of the Alps, fell with him. That Spain and a fragment of Gaul still remained to form a West Gothic kingdom was owing to the intervention of the East Goths under the rule of the greatest man in Gothic history.
When the Hunnish power broke in pieces on the death of Attila, the East Goths recovered their full independence. They now entered into relations with the Empire, and were settled on lands in Pannonia. During the greater part of the latter half of the 5th century, the East Goths play in south-eastern Europe nearly the same part which the West Goths played in the century before. They are seen going to and fro, in every conceivable relation of friendship and enmity with the Eastern Roman power, till, just as the West Goths had done before them, they pass from the East to the West. They are still ruled by kings of the house of the Amali, and from that house there now steps forward a great figure, famous alike in history and in romance, in the person of Theodoric, son of Theodemir. Born about 454, his childhood was spent at Constantinople as a hostage, where he was carefully educated. The early part of his life is taken up with various disputes, intrigues and wars within the Eastern empire, in which he has as his rival another Theodoric, son of Triarius, and surnamed Strabo. This older but lesser Theodoric seems to have been the chief, not the king, of that branch of the East Goths which had settled within the Empire at an earlier time. Theodoric the Great, as he is sometimes distinguished, is sometimes the friend, sometimes the enemy, of the Empire. In the former case he is clothed with various Roman titles and offices, as patrician and consul; but in all cases alike he remains the national East Gothic king. It was in both characters together that he set out in 488, by commission from the emperor Zeno, to recover Italy from Odoacer. By 493 Ravenna was taken; Odoacer was killed by Theodoric's own hand; and the East Gothic power was fully established over Italy, Sicily, Dalmatia and the lands to the north of Italy. In this war the history of the East and West Goths begins again to unite, if we may accept the witness of one writer that Theodoric was helped by West Gothic auxiliaries. The two branches of the nation were soon brought much more closely together, when, through the overthrow of the West Gothic kingdom of Toulouse, the power of Theodoric was practically extended over a large part of Gaul and over nearly the whole of Spain. A time of confusion followed the fall of Alaric II, and, as that prince was the son-in‑law of Theodoric, the East Gothic king stepped in as the guardian of his grandson Amalaric, and preserved for him all his Spanish and a fragment of his Gaulish dominion. Toulouse passed away to the Frank; but the Goth kept Narbonne and its district, the land of Septimania — the land which, as the last part of Gaul held by the Goths, kept the name of Gothia for many ages. While Theodoric lived, the West Gothic kingdom was practically united to his own dominion. He seems also to have claimed a kind of protectorate over the Teutonic powers generally, and indeed to have practically exercised it, except in the case of the Franks.
The East Gothic dominion was now again as great in extent and far more splendid than it could have been in the time of Ermanaric. But it was now of a wholly different character. The dominion of Theodoric was not a barbarian but a civilized power. His twofold position ran through everything. He was at once national king of the Goths, and successor, though without any imperial titles, of the Roman emperors of the West. The two nations, differing in manners, language and religion, lived side by side on the soil of Italy; each was ruled according to its own law, by the prince who was, in his two separate characters, the common sovereign of both. The picture of Theodoric's rule is drawn for us in the state papers drawn up in his name and in the names of his successors by his Roman minister Cassiodorus. The Goths seem to have been thick on the ground in northern Italy; in the south they formed little more than garrisons. In Theodoric's theory the Goth was the armed protector of the peaceful Roman; the Gothic king had the toil of government, while the Roman consul had the honour. All the forms of the Roman administration went on, and the Roman polity and Roman culture had great influence on the Goths themselves. The rule of the prince over two distinct nations in the same land was necessarily despotic; the old Teutonic freedom was necessarily lost. Such a system as that which Theodoric established needed a Theodoric to carry it on. It broke in pieces after his death.
On the death of Theodoric (526) the East and West Goths were again separated. The few instances in which they are found acting together after this time are as scattered and incidental as they were before. Amalaric succeeded to the West Gothic kingdom in Spain and Septimania. Provence was added to the dominion of the new East Gothic king Athalaric, the grandson of Theodoric through his daughter Amalasuntha. The weakness of the East Gothic position in Italy now showed itself. The long wars of Justinian's reign (535‑555) recovered Italy for the Empire, and the Gothic name died out on Italian soil. The chance of forming a national state in Italy by the union of Roman and Teutonic elements, such as those which arose in Gaul, in Spain, and in parts of Italy under Lombard rule, was thus lost. The East Gothic kingdom was destroyed before Goths and Italians had at all mingled together. The war of course made the distinction stronger; under the kings who were chosen for the purposes of the war national Gothic feeling had revived. The Goths were now again, if not a wandering people, yet an armed host, no longer the protectors but the p275 enemies of the Roman people of Italy. The East Gothic dominion and the East Gothic name wholly passed away. The nation had followed Theodoric. It is only once or twice after his expedition that we hear of Goths, or even of Gothic leaders, in the eastern provinces. From the soil of Italy the nation passed away almost without a trace, while the next Teutonic conquerors stamped their name on the two ends of the land, one of which keeps it to this day.
The West Gothic kingdom lasted much longer, and came much nearer to establishing itself as a national power in the lands which it took in. But the difference of race and faith between the Arian Goths and the Catholic Romans of Gaul and Spain influenced the history of the West Gothic kingdom for a long time. The Arian Goths ruled over Catholic subjects, and were surrounded by Catholic neighbours. The Franks were Catholics from their first conversion; the Suevi became Catholics much earlier than the Goths. The African conquests of Belisarius gave the Goths of Spain, instead of the Arian Vandals, another Catholic neighbour in the form of the restored Roman power. The Catholics everywhere preferred either Roman, Suevian or Frankish rule to that of the heretical Goths; even the unconquerable mountaineers of Cantabria seem for a while to have received a Frankish governor. In some other mountain districts the Roman inhabitants long maintained their independence, and in 534 a large part of the south of Spain, including the great cities of Cadiz, Cordova, Seville and New Carthage, was, with the good will of its Roman inhabitants, reunited to the Empire, which kept some points on the coast as late as 624. That is to say, the same work which the Empire was carrying on in Italy against the East Goths was at the same moment carried on in Spain against the West Goths. But in Italy the whole land was for a while won back, and the Gothic power passed away for ever. In Spain the Gothic power outlived the Roman power, but it outlived it only by itself becoming in some measure Roman. The greatest period of the Gothic power as such was in the reign of Leovigild (568‑586). He reunited the Gaulish and Spanish parts of the kingdom which had been parted for a moment; he united the Suevian dominion to his own; he overcame some of the independent districts, and won back part of the recovered Roman province in southern Spain. He further established the power of the crown over the Gothic nobles, who were beginning to grow into territorial lords. The next reign, that of his son Recared (586‑601), was marked by a change which took away the great hindrance which had thus far stood in the way of any national union between Goths and Romans. The king and the greater part of the Gothic people embraced the Catholic faith. A vast degree of influence now fell into the hands of the Catholic bishops; the two nations began to unite; the Goths were gradually romanized and the Gothic language began to go out of use. In short, the Romance nation and the Romance speech of Spain began to be formed. The Goths supplied the Teutonic infusion into the Roman mass. The kingdom, however, still remained a Gothic kingdom. "Gothic," not "Roman" or "Spanish," is its formal title; only a single late instance of the use of the formula "regnum Hispaniae" is known. In the first half of the 7th century that name became for the first time geographically applicable by the conquest of the still Roman coast of southern Spain. The Empire was then engaged in the great struggle with the Avars and Persians, and, now that the Gothic kings were Catholic, the great objection to their rule on the part of the Roman inhabitants was taken away. The Gothic nobility still remained a distinct class, and held, along with the Catholic prelacy, the right of choosing the king. Union with the Catholic Church was accompanied by the introduction of the ecclesiastical ceremony of anointing, a change decidedly favourable to elective rule. The growth of those later ideas which tended again to favour the hereditary doctrine had not time to grow up in Spain before the Mahommedan conquest (711). The West Gothic crown therefore remained elective till the end. The modern Spanish nation is the growth of the long struggle with the Mussulmans; but it has a direct connexion with the West Gothic kingdom. We see at once that the Goths hold altogether a different place in Spanish memory from that which they hold in Italian memory. In Italy the Goth was but a momentary invader and ruler; the Teutonic element in Italy comes from other sources. In Spain the Goth supplies an important element in the modern nation. And that element has been neither forgotten nor despised. Part of the unconquered region of northern Spain, the land of Asturia, kept for a while the name of Gothia, as did the Gothic possessions in Gaul and in Crim. The name of the people who played so great a part in all southern Europe, and who actually ruled over so large a part of it has now wholly passed away; but it is in Spain that its historical impress is to be looked for.
Of Gothic literature in the Gothic language we have the Bible of Ulfilas, and some other religious writings and fragments (see Gothic Language below). Of Gothic legislation in Latin we have the edict of Theodoric of the year 500, edited by F. Bluhme in the Monumenta Germaniae historica; and the books of Variae of Cassiodorus may pass as a collection of the state papers of Theodoric and his immediate successors. Among the West Goths written laws had already been put forth by Euric. The second Alaric (484‑507) put forth a Breviarium of Roman law for his Roman subjects; but the great collection of West Gothic laws dates from the later days of the monarchy, being put forth by King Recceswinth about 654. This code gave occasion to some well-known comments by Montesquieu and Gibbon, and has been discussed by Savigny (Geschichte des römischen Rechts, II.65) and various other writers. They are printed in the Monumenta Germaniae, leges, tome I (1902). Of special Gothic histories, besides that of Jordanes, already so often quoted, there is the Gothic history of Isidore, archbishop of Seville, a special source of the history of the West Gothic kings down to Svinthala (621‑631). But all the Latin and Greek writers contemporary with the days of Gothic predominance make their constant contributions. Not for special facts, but for a general estimate, no writer is more instructive than Salvian of Marseilles in the 5th century, whose work De Gubernatione Dei is full of passages contrasting the vices of the Romans with the virtues of the barbarians, especially of the Goths. In all such pictures we must allow a good deal for exaggeration both ways, but there must be a ground-work of truth. The chief virtues which the Catholic presbyter praises in the Arian Goths are their chastity, their piety according to their own creed, their tolerance towards the Catholics under their rule, and their general good treatment of their Roman subjects. He even ventures to hope that such good people may be saved, notwithstanding their heresy. All this must have had some groundwork of truth in the 5th century, but it is not very wonderful if the later West Goths of Spain had a good deal fallen away from the doubtless somewhat ideal picture of Salvian.
[E. A. F.]
There is now an extensive literature on the Goths, and among the principal works may be mentioned: T. Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders (Oxford, 1880‑1899); J. Aschbach, Geschichte der Westgoten (Frankfort, 1827); F. Dahn, Die Könige der Germanen (1861‑1899);º E. von Wietersheim, Geschichte der Völkerwanderung (1880‑1881); R. Pallmann, Die Geschichte der Völkerwanderung (Gotha, 1863‑1864); B. Rappaport, Die Einfälle der Goten in das römische Reich (Leipzig, 1899), and K. Zeuss, Die Deutschen und die Nachbarstämme (Munich, 1837). Other works which may be consulted are: E. Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, edited by J. B. Bury (1896‑1900); H. H. Milman, History of Latin Christianity (1867); J. B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire (1889);º P. Villari, Le Invasioni barbariche in Italia (Milan, 1901); and F. Martroye, L'Occident à l'époque byzantine: Goths et Vandales (Paris, 1903). There is a popular history of the Goths by H. Bradley in the "Story of the Nations" series (London, 1888). For the laws see the Leges in Band I of the Monumenta Germaniae historica, leges (1902). A. Helfferich, Entstehung und Geschichte des Westgotenrechts (Berlin, 1858); F. Bluhme, Zur Textkritik des Westgotenrechts (1872); F. Dahn, Lex Visigothorum. Westgotische Studien (Würzburg, 1874); C. Rinaudo, Leggi dei Visigoti, studio (Turin, 1878); and K. Zeumer, "Geschichte der westgotischen Gesetzgebung" in the Neues Archiv der Gesellschaft für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde. See also the article on Theodoric.
1 Geschichte der Völkerwanderung (Gotha, 1863‑1864).
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