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Introduction
Ch. 2

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and her Invaders

by
Thomas Hodgkin

published by the Clarendon Press
Oxford
1880

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has not yet been proofread.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Introduction
Note A

Vol. I
p43
Chapter III

Early history of the Goths

Authorities

Sources:—

Jornandes or Jordanes, a man of Gothic descent, wrote his 'History concerning Gothic Affairs' probably about A.D. 552. He is often spoken of as Bishop of Ravenna, but this appears to be a mistake, as we have very full lists of the occupants of this see, in one of which does his name appear. He was, however, an ecclesiastic of some sort, and it is probable that he wrote in or near Ravenna.

All that we really know about the origin and personal history of Jornandes is told us by himself in the fiftieth chapter of his book on Gothic Affairs. 'The Sciri and Satagarii, and the rest of the Alans occupied [about A.D. 455 the lesser Scythia and the lower Moesia [the Dobrudscha and Bulgaria]. Their general [or duke] was named Candax, and to him my grandfather Peria (father of my father Alanouvamuth) was Notary (or Chancellor) so long as he lived. Moreover his sister's son Guntheigs, who was also called Baza, the son of Andags, the son of Andala, of the [royal] race of the Amals, was his Master of the Forces.'

This gives us the following

Pedigree of Jornandes

IMAGE

Evidently his cousin Guntheigs, with his Amal descent, was the great man of the family.

 p44  Jornandes continues: 'I also, although an unlettered man, Jornandes, before my conversion [i.e., no doubt, before taking clerical or monastic vows] was a notary.' ('ego item, quamvis agrammatus, Jornandes [al. Jordanes] ante conversionem meam Notarius fui.') Jornandes need scarcely have told us that he was agrammatus, for every page of his history shows how thin was the veneer of classical learning which he possessed. Such value as belongs to his writings is derived from the fact that he was a copyist and epitomiser of Cassiodorus (A.D. 480‑575) 'the Senator,' the accomplished minister of the Ostrogothic king Theodoric, and the author of a History of the Goths, in twelve books, which unfortunately is entirely lost. Jornandes seems to assert in his Preface that he had only had the loan of this book for three days. If this be so, he deserves credit for having preserved so much of it, though with many obvious inaccuracies.

In several parts of the work of Jornandes the movement of the old Teutonic ballads (the Sagas) is distinctly perceptible. This is especially the case in his history of Attila.

The chief work of Jornandes, as has been already said, is the De Rebus Geticis (32 pages folio in Muratori's Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, vol. I). He also wrote a treatise De Regnorum et Temporum Successione (20 pages, in the same volume), containing the history of the world from Adam to Justinian, from which a little additional information respecting the events of the fifth and sixth centuries has been collected.

As to the precise form of his name, it will be seen that the MSS. waver between Jornandes and Jordanes. Jordanes is now almost invariably adopted by German scholars, and is believed to be supported by the best documentary evidence, but considering how much more familiar the form Jornandes is to English scholars, it has seemed best to adhere to it throughout this History.

Zosimus (flourished in the latter part of the fifth century) gives some interesting particulars about the early inroads of the Goths. His work is described among the authorities for the next chapter.

 p45  Dexippus (flourished A.D. 267) wrote the history of the Gothic war, in which he bore so honourable a part. A few scattered fragments have come down to us, chief among them a speech, which is supposed to have been uttered by Dexippus himself to the Athenian soldiery. (See Dexippi, &c., Fragmenta, edited by bekker and Niebuhr, Bonn, 1829.)

Guides:—

Aschbach, Geschichte der Westgothen (1827). A sensible and generally accurate monograph on the History of the Visigoths, from the earliest times down to the fall of the Gothic monarchy in Spain.

Pallmann, Geschichte der Volkerwanderung, vol. I (1863). The author is a very Rationalist in Teutonic history. Notwithstanding the title of his book, his change object seems to be to show that there was no 'wandering of the nations,' that all the events which brought about the great movement of the barbarian races against the Empire may be accounted for by the most prosaic and commonplace motives; and to a certain extent he proves his point. His book is not very skilfully put together, but his microscopical analysis of the authorities may often be of service to the student. (The first volume has been used by me in revision only.)

Herzberg's Geschichte Griechenlands unter der Herrschaft der Römer, vol. III (1875), contains a very spirited and accurate sketch of the Gothic inroads into the Empire in the third century, and especially of the war in Attica.

For the life and literary work of Ulfilas consult:— Massman, Ulfilas. Die Heiligen Schriften in Gothischer Sprache. Stuttgard,º 1857. Rev. J. Bosworth, Gothic and Anglo-Saxon Gospels. London, 1865. (A complete English edition of Ulfilas is still a desideratum.) Max Müller, Lectures on the Science of Language, First Series, pp185‑194 (fourth edition).

My own views on the literary and theological position  p46 of Ulfilas are stated more at length in an article on Ulfilas, the Apostle of the Goths, contributed to the Edinburgh Review for October 1877.

When and from what causes the great Teutonic family, of which the Goths formed a portion, migrated westwards from the Asiatic home of the Aryan races, it will probably be impossible ever to determine. It is enough to accept the undoubting assertion of the ethnologist that this migration did once take place, and to observe that the national traditions and mythology seem to point, in however vague and feeble a manner, towards the same conclusion.

But the first clear utterance of tradition among the Goths points to Sweden as their home. It is true that this theory of the Swedish origin of the Goths has of late been strenuously combated, but until it is actually disproved (if that be possible) it seems better to accept it as a 'working hypothesis,' and, at the very least, a legend which influenced the thoughts and feelings of the nation itself.

Condensing the narrative of Jornandes, and winnowing away from it a good deal of classical learning, of the irrelevance or the worthlessness of which we are able to form our own opinion, we get some such results as these:—

'The island of Scanzia [peninsula of Norway and Sweden] lies in the Northern Ocean, opposite the mouths of the Vistula, in shape like a cedar-leaf. In this island, a warehouse of nations  p47 ('officina gentium'), dwelt the Goths, with many other tribes,' whose uncouth names are for the most part forgotten, though the Swedes, the Fins, the Heruli, are familiar to us.

'From this island the Goths, under their king Berig, set forth in search of new homes. They had but three ships, and as one of these during their passage always lagged behind, they called her Gepanta, "the torpid one,' and her crew, who ever after showed themselves more sluggish and clumsy than their companions when they became a nation, bore a name derived from this circumstance Gepidae, tLoiterers.

'However all, both loiterers and nimble ones, came safely to land at a place not far from Dantzic, which was called ever after Gothi-scanzia. There in that retuse angle of the Baltic coast they settled themselves, pressing hard upon the Vandals, their neighbours.'(And here we remark, incidentally, the fact that in this same region, the East Prussia of modern geography, Tacitus, writing about the end of the first century A.D., placed the tribe of Gothones. These may not have been the same as our Goths, but there seems at first sight a strong probability that they were.)

'From this corner of the Baltic, finding themselves straitened for room, the Gothic wanderers, who were now becoming a great nation, roamed southwards and eastwards under the guidance of Filimer, the fifth king from Berig. Somewhere in the vast steppes of Lithuania, when they were  p48 crossing a river, a bridge gave way and half of the great army-nation perished in the stream, and in the morasses on either side of it.1 And even to this day (say A.D. 550) the passers by often hear afar off the cries of cattle, and see faint traces of men hovering about that melancholy spot. But the other half of the host moved onwards.' They emerged victorious from many conflicts with the yet ruder tribes through whom their path lay, and at length the endless horizon was broken by a dip of blue. Perhaps the long train of wagons halted, and women and children clambered down out of their recesses to see that dim and far-off feature in the landscape which told them that their wanderings were reaching a close. The journeyers from the Baltic had indeed reached the Euxine, the same sea which, centuries before, the ten thousand returning Greeks had hailed with the great cry, 'Thalatta, Thalatta.' Ignorant as yet of the very name of Greece, the Gothic minstrels for many generations preserved in their songs the remembrance of the thrill of delight which went through the hearts of their fathers at the sight of that Southern sea.

The date of this migration of the Goths is uncertain; but, as far as we can judge from the indications afforded by contemporary Roman events,  p49 it was somewhere between 100 and 200 A.D. At any rate, by the middle of the third century, we find them firmly planted in the South of Russia. They are now divided into three nations, the Ostrogoths on the East, the Visigoths on the West, the lazy Gepidae a little to the rear — that is, to the North of both. Tribes both Sclavonic and Tartar had roamed over these wide plains, vaguely called Scythia, for centuries before, and have roamed or encamped there for centuries since, but it is important for us to remember that these men are Teutons of the Teutons, as purely German as Herman (Arminius) himself, and that all at main features of German life, as sketched by Tacitus, were doubtless exhibited among them. More, the evidence of language shows that among the Teutonic races they belonged to the Low German family of peoples: more nearly allied, that is to say, to the Dutch, the frieslanders, and to our own Saxon forefathers, all of whom dwelt by the flat shores of the German Ocean or the Baltic Sea, than to the Suabians and other High German tribes who dwelt among the hills by the upper waters of the Rhine, the elbe, and the Danube. The backs of these Gothic nations are towards the Scythian desert, their faces towards the Euxine and the Danube, and they are only watching their opportunity for another migration less peaceful than the last.

The opportunity came in the middle of the third century. The confusion in the affairs of the Roman  p50 Empire, under the men whom I have styled the Barrack Emperors, had become indescribable. Civil war, pestilence, bankruptcy, were all brooding over the Empire. the soldiers had forgotten how to fight, the rulers how to govern. It seemed as if the effete and unwieldy Empire would break down under its own weight almost before the Barbarians were ready to enter into the vacant inheritance.

Under the reign of Philip the Arabian, the Goths began to complain that their stipendia, subsidies which were probably something like our own Danegeld, disguised under the form of soldiers' pay, had been withheld from them; a measure which was probably due not so much to any deliberate change of policy as to the utter disorganisation into which the finances and the administration of the Empire had fallen. Upon this provocation they moved westward and westward, occupied Dacia, which the Romans had not yet entirely abandoned, and crossing the Danube, laid waste the province of Moesia (the modern Bulgaria), and besieged Marcianople (Shumla). After a long blockade they accepted a large sum of money from the inhabitants to raise the siege and return home. The leader in this expedition is said to have been King Ostrogotha, and whether this be the name of a man or an embodiment of a nation, there seems to be no doubt that as a rule, during all the events of the succeeding 120 years, the Ostrogoths were the leading tribe. On this occasion the 'Torpids,' the Gepidae, were  p51 excluded altogether from the venture, an exclusion which they bitterly resented. Brooding over this slight, and dissatisfied with their narrow boundaries, they first made a furious, successful, and almost exterminating raid upon their neighbours, the Burgundians, and then their king Fastida sent to Ostrogotha, saying, 'I am hemmed in with mountains and choked with forests, give me land or meet me in battle.' 'Deeply,' said Ostrogotha, 'as I should regret that tribes so nearly allied as you and we should meet in impious and fratricidal strife, yet land I neither can nor will give you.' They joined battle in the north-west corner of Hungary; the Gepidae were thoroughly beaten, and Fastida fled humiliated to his home. So many fell in the battle that, as Jornandes hints with a grim smile, 'they no longer found their land too strait for them.'2

After this episode the Goths returned to their more important business, the war with Rome. Cniva was now their King, and Decius was Emperor of Rome, a man unfavourably known to us in ecclesiastical history as having set on foot one of the fiercest persecutions of the Christians, that namely to which the illustrious Cyprian fell a victim. Yet Decius was no mere tyrant and voluptuary, persecuting and torturing for the sake Ostia new sensation. He had in him some of the heroic spirit of his great namesakes, the Decii of  p52 the Samnite wars. He was willing, even as they had done, to sacrifice himself for the glory of Rome, to which the Goths without and the Christians within seemed to him to be equally hostile; and his calm readiness to accept death in the discharge of his duty, showed that he shared the heroism of the martyrs whose blood he blindly shed.

King Cniva, with 70,000 of his subjects, crossed the Danube (probably on the ice), a day's march above Rustchuk, at the place which is still called Novo-grad, and was then known as Novae. In his first campaign he seems to have defeated Priscus, the Roman Governor, and then to have swept with devastating fury over the plains of Moesia (Northern Bulgaria), and up to the line of the Balkans. Next year the central event of the war was the siege of Philippopolis, in the valley of the Maritza, whither vast quantities of plundered provincials had flocked for refuge. The siege flagged, — these northern barbarians were generally unfortunate in their operations against walled towns, — and time was given for the Emperor Decius himself to arrive with an army to raise it. A battle ensued, which was evidently a terrible one. Thirty thousand Goths lay dead upon the field. We are not informed of the numbers lost by the Romans, but apparently they must have been yet greater, since the battle was by Roman writers counted a defeat, and the main object of the war was not attained. Philippopolis, with all its panic-stricken  p53 inhabitants (of whom it is said street 100,000 were put to the sword) and all their treasure, fell into the hands of the barbarians.

But either their own terrible losses or the demoralising effect of the pillage of Philippopolis caused the fortune of war to turn somewhat against the Goths. They found themselves hard pressed by Decius, and offered, we are told, to relinquish all their captives and all the r spoil if they might be allowed to return in peace to their own land. Decius refused their request, and posted one of his most highly trusted generals, the Senator Gallus, with a large body of troops across the line of their homeward march. If we may trust a Roman historian3 (which is doubtful, since a beaten army is always ready with the cry of treachery), Gallus, already coveting the Imperial crown, opened negotiations with the barbarians, and these by a concerted arrangement posted themselves near a very deep swamp, into which by a feigned flight they drew Decius and his troops. The Romans floundering in the bog soon got into disorder. Moreover, at this critical period, Herennius, the brave young son of the Emperor, fell pierced by a Gothic arrow. The troops offered their rough and hasty sympathy to the bereaved father, who answered with stoical calmness, 'I do not account the death of one soldier so great a loss.' He himself soon after perished. With a vast multitude of his officers and men, he  p54 was sucked in by that fatal swamp, and not even his corpse, nor those of thousands of his followers, were ever recovered. Gallus, who succeeded to the vacant purple, made a hasty and ignominious peace with the barbarians, agreeing to pay them a large annual sum of money, which might be called either subsidy or tribute according to the nationality of the speaker.

the peace which Gallus had made with the invaders proved to be but a short truce, and they were soon again employed in the ravage of Asia as well as of Europe. In the slight sketch which is all that is here attempted of the early operations of the Goths, it will not be needful to try to disentangle the chronology of this peculiarly difficult period. At least four times they made expeditions which anticipated the future exploits of the Northmen. Making a league with the petty chieftains of the tribes bordering on the Cimmerian Bosporus (Straits of Kertch), they transported their men in the ships lent them by these allies to the coasts of what we now call Circassia and Georgia.

their first attempt upon the fortifications of Pityus (the modern Soukoum Kaleh) was unsuccessful, but returning the same season they found a large part of the Roman garrison removed, to defend another portion of the frontier, and took the fortress with but little difficulty. Trebizond, on the southern shore of the Black Sea, being surrounded by a double wall, and strongly garrisoned,  p55 might have been expected to prove an insuperable obstacle. But the Goths, who had discovered that the defenders of the city kept a lax watch, and passed their time in feasting and drunkenness, quickly collected a quantity of wood which they heaped up one night against the lowest part of the walls, and so mounted to an easy conquest. The demoralised Roman soldiers poured out of the city by the gate opposite to that by which the Goths were entering. The barbarians thus came into possession of an untold quantity of gold and captives, and, after sacking the temple and wrecking the stateliest of the public buildings, returned by sea to their own land.

Their success stimulated a large neighbouring tribe of Goths to undertake a similar enterprise. These however, dreading the uncertainties of navigation of the Euxine, marched by land from the mouths of the Danube to the little lake of Philea, about thirty miles north-west of Byzantium. There they found a large population of fishermen, whom they compelled to render them the same service with their boats which the men by the Sea of Azof had rendered to their countrymen. Sailing boldly through the Bosporus they wrested the strong position of Chalcedon at its mouth from a cowardly Roman army far superior to them in numbers, and then proceeded to lay waste at their leisure the rich cities of Bithynia. The men who had overcome so many difficulties were, after all, stopped by the Rhyndaeus, an apparently inconsiderable  p56 stream which falls into the Sea of Marmora. Retracing their steps, therefore, they tranquilly burned all the Bithynian cities which they had hitherto only plundered, and piling their vast heaps of spoil on waggons and on ships, they returned to their own land.

The foregoing account of this in the reign of the barbarians is given to us by Zosimus the Greek historian. The Goth Jornandes, whose historical perspective is not extremely accurate, informs us that during the expedition 'they also sacked Troy and Ilium, which were just beginning to breathe again for a little space after that sad war with Agamemnon.'4 But neither Chalcedon nor Troy seems to have imprinted itself so deeply in the barbarian memory as a certain town of Anchialus in Thrace (now the tolerably famous Bourghaz), built just where the range of the Balkans slopes down into the Euxine Sea. For at or near to Anchialus 'there were certain warm springs renowned above all others in the world for their healing virtues, and greatly did the Goths delight to wash therein.' One can imagine the children of the North, after the fatigue of sacking so many towns, beneath the hot sun of Asia Minor, requiring divers washings in these nature-heated baths. 'And having tarried there many days they thence returned home.'5

 p57  A third expedition, which must have been also partly maritime, brought these hardy and mischievous barbarians to another well-known spot, to the Ionic city of Ephesus, where they signalised their tarriance by the destruction of that magnificent Temple of Diana, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, of whose hundred marble columns, wreathed round by sculptured figures in high relief, an English explorer6 has lately discovered the pathetically defaced ruins.

But a greater shrine of art than even Ephesus was to be visited by the unwelcome pilgrimage of the Teutons. Five years later the German tribe of the Heruli (accompanied possibly by some of the Goths properly so called), with a fleet which is said to have consisted of five hundred ships — if they should not rather be called mere boats — sailed again through the Bosporus, took Byzantium, ravaged some of the islands of the Archipelago, and landing in Greece, wasted not only Corinth, Sparta, and Argos, but even Athens herself, with fire and sword. The soft and cultured Athenians, lately immersed in the friendly rivalries of their professors of rhetoric, and who had for centuries not seen a spear thrown in anger, were terrified by the apparition of these tall, gaunt, skin-clothed barbarians under their walls. They abandoned their beautiful city without a struggle, and as many as could do so escaped to the demes, the little villages scattered along the heights of  p58 Hymettus and Cithaeron. It was probably during the occupation of Athens by the barbarians which followed this surrender that a characteristic incident occurred. A troop of Teutonic warriors roaming through the city in search of something to destroy, came to one of the great libraries which were the glory of Athens. They began to carry out the parchment rolls, full of unintelligible learning, and to pile them up in a great heap, intending to behold a magnificent bonfire. 'Not so, my sons,' said a gray-bearded Gothic ven; 'leave these scrolls untouched, that the Greeks may in time to come, as they have in time past, waste their manhood in poring over their wearisome contents. So will they ever fall, as now, an easy prey to the strong unlearned sons of the North.'

That the Gothic veteran spoke only a half-truth when he uttered these words was soon shown by the valiant and wisely planned onset which was made upon the barbarians by Dexippus, rhetorician, philosopher, and historian, who at the head of only 2000 men, co-operating apparently with an Imperial fleet, succeeded in expelling the barbarians from Athens, and to some extent effaced the stigma which their receipt cowardice had brought upon the name of the Greeks. Details as to the siege and counter-siege are alike wanting, but we still have the speech, truly said to be not altogether unworthy of a place in the pages of Thucydides, in which the soldier-sophist, while cautioning his followers against rash and unsupported skirmishes,  p59 breathes a high heroic spirit into their hearts, and appeals to them to show themselves fit inheritors of the great traditions of their forefathers. 'Thus shall we win from men now living, and from those who are yet to be, the meed of ever-to‑be-remembered glory, proving in very deed that even in the midst of our calamities the old spirit of the Athenians is not abated. Let us therefore set our children and all our dearest ones upon the hazard of this battle for which we now array ourselves, calling upon the all-seeing gods to be our helpers.'

'When they heard these words, the Athenians were greatly strengthened, and begged him to lead them on to battle,' in which, as has been already said, they appear to have won a complete victory.

All these inroads of the Goths occurred under the reign of the Emperor Gallienus, that celebrated poco-curante, who took both the captivity of his father (Valerian) and the rapid dismemberment of his Empire with such charming compound and serenity. 'Egypt,' said one of his ministers to him, 'has revolted.' 'What of that? cannot we dispense with Egyptian flax?' 'Fearful earthquakes have happened in Asia Minor, and the Goths ravaging all the country.' 'But cannot we do without Lydian saltpetre?' When Gaul was lost he gave a merry laugh, and said, 'Do you think the Republic will be in danger if the Consuls' robes cannot be made of the Gaulish tartan?'

On the death of Gallienus, a sovereign of very  p60 different temper ascended the throne. Claudius II and his successor Aurelian, notwithstanding the shortness of their reigns, effectually dissipated the mosquito-swarms of barbarian invaders and provincial usurpers who were ruining the unhappy dominions of Gallienus.

The two campaigns (of 268 and 269) in which the Emperor Claudius vanquished the barbarians are related with great brevity, and in such a shape that it is not easy to harmonise even the scanty details which are r preserved for us. It seems clear, however, that the Goths (both Ostrogoths and Visigoths), with all their kindred tribes, poured themselves upon Thrace and Macedonia in vaster numbers than ever. The previous movements of these nations had been probably but robber-inroads: this was a national immigration. The number of their ships (or skiffs) is stated by Zosimus at 6000. This is probably an exaggeration or an addle corruption of the historian's text, but 2000, which is the figure given by Ammianus, is a sufficiently formidable number even of the small craft to which the estimate refers. And the invading host itself, including doubtless camp-followers and slaves, perhaps some women and children, is said, with a concurrence of testimony which we dare not disregard, to have reached the enormous total of 320,000.

A few years later, so vast an irruption must inevitably have ruined the Roman Empire. But now, under Claudius, the army, once more subjugated to strict discipline, had regained, or was  p61 rapidly regaining, its tone, and the Gothic multitudes, vainly precipitating themselves against it, by the very vastness of their unwieldy masses, hastened their own destruction. A great battle was fought at Naissus (Nisch, in Servia), a battle which was not a complete victory, which according to one authority7 was even a defeat for the Romans, but since the barbarians as an immediate consequence of it lost 50,000 men, their doubtful victory may fairly be counted as a defeat. In the next campaign they were shut up in the intricate passes of the Balkans by the Roman cavalry. Under the pressure of famine they killed and eat the cattle that drew their waggons, so parting with their last chance of return to their northern homes. Again they gained some advantage in the field over the Roman legions, but again the benefit of it was snatched from them by the superior generalship of Claudius. At length the remnants of the huge host seem to have disbanded, some to have entered the service of their conqueror as foederati, and many to have remained as hired labourers to plough the fields which they had once hoped to conquer.

In right of these memorable victories Claudius took the surname of Gothicus, but the conquered barbarians avenged themselves in an unexpected manner on their conqueror. The vast number of unburied corpses bred a pestilence, to which the emperor fell a victim. His successor Aurelian, the  p62 conqueror of Zenobia, led Gothic chiefs as well as the proud queen of Palmyra as captives up the Capitolian Hill. Yet he made peace wisely as well as war bravely, and prudently determining on the final abandonment of the Roman province of Dacia, he conceded to the Goths the undisturbed possession of that region on condition of their not crossing the Danube to molest Moesia. Translating these terms into the language of modern geography, we may say, roughly that the repose of Servia and Bulgaria was guaranteed by the final separation from the Roman Empire of Hungary, Transylvania, Moldavia, and Wallachia, which became from this time forward the acknowledged home of the Gothic nation. The hereafter-Romanised Dacians, who had been the previous inhabitants of this country, bore, unfortunately for the interests of history, the name Getae. A name so like to that of the new settlers was not unnaturally transferred to them by the Roman poets and historians. Hence it comes to pass that Jornandes's history (which, it should be observed, passes over the defeats of the Goths by Claudius in utter silence) is entitled 'De Rebus Geticis,' and hence too we shall find at a later period that a poem on the campaign against Alaric is headed 'De Bello Getico.' It is enough here to note the almost certainly erroneous identification of the two peoples without tracing out the mystification and perplexity to which, in many ways, it has given rise.

Aurelian's Dacian settlement of the Goths proved  p63 to be a piece of real statesmanship. Had a similar policy been pursued all round the frontiers of the Roman Empire, that Empire, though in somewhat less than its greatest extent, might perhaps be still standing.

For about a century (from 270 to 365) the Goths appear to have been with little exception at peace with Rome. There were indeed about ten years (nearly coinciding with the time of the foundation of Constantinople) during which this good understanding was disturbed. In 322, 328, and 332, there was war between the Emperors and the barbarians on the Gothic frontier. In the last year Constantine intervened in a dispute between the Goths and their Sarmatian neighbours, and is said to have caused 100,000 of the Goths to perish on the battle-field or of cold and hunger, and to have insisted on their king Araric giving up his son as an hostage. But with these exceptions there appears to have been not only peace but amity between the nation and the Empire, many Gothic auxiliaries serving under the Caesars in their Persian campaigns. It is hinted that this friendship existed especially between the barbarians and the family of Constantine, as if the Teuton rather loved a brave and capable conqueror, for the Constantines were collateral descendants of the great Claudius Gothicus himself.

Of the whole of this period we have but little that can be called history. We have vague accounts of the greatness of Hermanric, an Ostrogoth (that  p64 portion of the nation seems still to take the lead), and one of the divinely descended royal race of the Amals. His reign may have endured from about 335 to 375, and he is said to have extended his dominions northwards to the Baltic, and to have added many Sclavonian tribes inhabiting Lithuania and central Russia to the number of his subjects. But he observed the compact of Aurelian, and did not once cross the Danube to war with Rome.

Of the internal history of the Goths during this period we can form a little clearer idea, and far away as we seem still to be from the history of Italy, the changes effected among these obscure barbarian tribes during the fourth century are really of vital importance to that history.

The province of Dacia, in which the Goths had now obtained a settlement, was one which for a century and a half had been united, more or less closely, to the Roman Empire, and they dwelt in it for another century. With their will, or against their will, these two facts must have had a powerful influence on their character, and there can be little doubt that during this period of their sojourn in Dacia, they put off, in great measure, their old wandering, named character, and put on that of a settled people, still fierce, still delighting in war, but thinking more of occupying the country and less of roaming over it, more of the cornºfield and less of the forest, than their fathers had done. The bridge which Trajan had thrown over the  p65 Danube had indeed been destroyed, but his three great roads still bore their indestructible witness to the former might of Rome. Though many of the Dacians or Getae followed the retiring Roman eagles, and founded a second Dacia south of the Danube, it is expressly stated that many remained. How deeply these had been imbued with the spirit of Latin civilisation is still shown by the Roumanian language, which, like some great boulder-stone, fills up the provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia and part of Hungary, having Sclavonic speeches to the north and south of it, and the Magyar to the west, but itself by many a root and many a termination bearing witness to its descent from the old language of Rome and Alba Longa.

Over this civilised, Romanised, subject population of Dacia the Goths bore sway for a century, and though there may not be good contemporary evidence of the fact, it is reasonable to suppose that they would here in some measure anticipate the part which the German invaders afterwards played among all the conquered 'Latin races' of Southern and Western Europe. The cornfields, the vineyards, the mines, would be made productive by the toil of the subject Dacians or of captives taken in war with their Northern neighbours and reduced to slavery, while the fair-haired Goths, the meanest of whom would feel himself as a lord among his dependants, would make war the business of their lives, of which the chase, the minstrel's song, the endless Walhalla-banquet,  p66 with Tokay wine instead of mead for the favourite beverage, would be the recreations.

But while this was the superficial aspect of their life, two momentous changes were being silently introduced among them. The worship of odin and Thor was being displaced by the religion of Christ, and their language was giving birth to a literature. The chief agent in these two events, full of importance even to the present day, was a man who a hundred years ago would have been spoken of as an obscure ecclesiastic, but for whom in our own day the new science of the History of Speech has asserted his rightful position, as certainly 'attaining to the first three' in the century in which he lived. If the greatest name of that century be admitted to be Constantine, and if the second place be yielded to Athanasius, at least the third may be claimed for the missionary bishop of the Goths and the first translator of the Bible into a barbarian tongue, the noble-hearted Ulfilas.

Ulfilas, who was born in 311, was not of pure Teutonic extraction, but was descended from Cappadocian ancestors who had been carried captive by the Goths, probably during that raid into Asia Minor which ended at the baths of Anchialus. He was however himself, in heart and by speech, a Goth, and in the course of his life he became master both of the Greek and Latin languages. In the capacity either of an ambassador or, more probably, a hostage, he was  p67 sent while still a young man to Constantinople. During his stay there, which lasted apparently for about ten years, if not at an earlier period, he embraced the Christian religion, he was ordained Lector (Reader), and eventually, in the thirtieth year of his age, he was consecrated Bishop by the great Arian ecclesiastic, Eusebius of Nicomedia. From this time onwards for forty years he was engaged in frequent missionary journeys among his countrymen in Dacia, many of whom, having become converts to Christianity, were persuaded by him to cross the frontier, in order to escape the cruel persecutions of their heathen countrymen, and to settle within the limits of the Roman Empire. These Christianised Gothic settlers were called Gothi Minores, and their dwellings may perhaps have been situated upon the northern slopes of the Balkans. Our information as to these Lesser Goths is derived exclusively from the following passage in Jornandes (De Rebus Geticis, cap. 51):—

'There were also certain other Goths, who are called Minores, an immense people, with their bishops and primate Vulfila, who is said, moreover, to have taught them letters: and they are at this day dwelling in Moesia, in the district called Encopolitana (?). They abide at the foot of the mountains, a numerous race, but poor and unwarlike, abounding only in cattle of divers kinds, and rich in pastures and forest timber, having little wheat, though the earth is fertile in producing other crops. They destroy not appear  p68 to have any vineyards: those who want wine buy it of their neighbours; but most of them drink only milk.'

'He is said to have taught them letters.' That statement, confirmed by many other authorities, has, upon the whole, successfully stood the test of modern analytical criticism.8 The reader may be not unwilling to see a specimen of this, the earliest complete alphabet possessed by a Teutonic nation. The Greek alphabet is put side by side, that it may be seen at a glance how largely the one was based upon the other. We can speak confidently as to the order of the letters on account of their numerical value.

English equivalent Gothic letters Greek letters English equivalent Numeral value
A 𐌰 Α A 1
B 𐌱 Β B 2
G 𐌲 Γ G 3
D 𐌳 Δ D 4
E 𐌴 Ε Short E 5
Q 𐌵 Ϛ 6
Z 𐌶 Ζ Z 7
H 𐌷 Η Long E 8
TH 𐌸 Θ TH 9
I 𐌹 Ι I 10
K 𐌺 Κ K 20
L 𐌻 Λ L 30
M 𐌼 Μ M 40
N 𐌽 Ν N 50
J 𐌾 Ξ X 60
U 𐌿 Ο Short O 70
 p69  P 𐍀 Π P 80a1
R 𐍂 Ρ R 100
S 𐍃 Σ S 200
T 𐍄 Τ T 300
V 𐍅 Υ U 400
F 𐍆 Φ F 500
X 𐍇 Χ CH 600
W 𐍈 Ψ PS 700
O 𐍉 Ω Long O 800a2

The correspondences in this table are obvious. A little examination will show the differences, which are very curious, and apparently still quite unexplained. We can understand why Ulfilas availed himself of the gap between Epsilon and Zeta (represented by the antiquated Greek letter Ϛ) to insert his guttural Q, which, it may be observed, is never followed, as with us, by an U. We can also see his cleverly he has availed himself of the redundancies occasioned by the double forms of E and O in the Greek alphabet to introduce his H and U (the Greek U being represented by the Gothic V). But why he should have chosen the Greek Theta to represent his Teutonic W, and the Greek Psi to represent his Theta, why he should have introduced his J opposite to the Greek Xi, and then, following the example of the Latins, have appropriated the Greek Chi to his X, are questions to which we rather desire than expect the answers.

The grammar of the Gothic tongue, as exhibited  p70 in the translation of Ulfilas, is, it need hardly be said, of priceless value in the history of Human Speech. We here see, than indeed the original of all the Teutonic languages, but a specimen of one of them three centuries earlier than any other that has been preserved, with many inflections which have since been lost, with words which give us the clue to relationships otherwise untraceable, with phrases which cast a strong light on the fresh and joyous youth of the Teutonic peoples. In short, it is not too much to say, that the same place which the study of Sanscrit holds in the history of the development of the great Indo-European family of nations is occupied by the Gothic of Ulfilas (Moeso-Gothic, as it is sometimes not very happily named) in reference to the unwritten history of the Germanic races.

But let us not, as enthusiastic philologists, fancy that Ulfilas lived but to preserve for posterity certain fast-perishing Gothic roots, and to lay the foundation for 'grimm's Law' of the transmutation of consonants. To Christianise and to civilise the Gothic people was the one great and successfully accomplished aim of his life. It was for this that he undertook, amidst all the perils and hardships of his missionary life, the labour, great because so utterly unprecedented, of turning the Septuagint and the Greek New Testament into the language of a barbarous and unlettered race; by the mere conception of such a work showing a mind centuries in advance of its contemporaries. Nor was  p71 it a portion only, the Gospels or the Psalms, as in the case of our own King Alfred 500 years later, which was thus rendered into a language 'understanded of the people.' The whole of the New Testament and much the larger part of the Old were turned into Gothic by the good bishop, who, however, according to a well-known story,9 refrained from translating 'the Books of Kings' (that is, of course, the two Books of Samuel and the two of Kings), 'which contain the history of wars: because his nation was already very fond of war, and needed the bit rather than the spur, so far as fighting was concerned.' One can understand the wise 'economy' of truth, which withheld from these fierce Dacian warriors Sagas so exciting as the battle of Mount Gilboa, the slaughter of Baal's priests at the foot of Carmel, and the extermination of the House of Ahab by Jehu son of Nimshi.

If we often find it hard in our own day to say whether a great man moulds his age or is moulded by it, we must not expect to be able to decide with certainty how far Ulfilas effected and how far he merely represented the conversion of the Teutonic races to Christianity. His was evidently a most potent personality, and his book, carried by traders and warriors from town to town and from camp to camp of the barbarians, may have been even more powerful than himself. Let the operating cause have been what it may, all the Teutonic  p72 nations who figure prominently in the history of the fifth century, with two conspicuous exceptions, became Christian in the course of the fourth century, and chiefly during the lifetime of Ulfilas. The two exceptions are the Franks and the Saxons, whose conversion, as every one knows, was postponed till the days of Clovis (496) and Ethelbert (597).

But the form of Christianity taught by Ulfilas and earnestly accepted by Goth, the Vandal, the Burgundian, the Sueve, and the Lombard, was one of the various forms which passed under the common denomination of Arian. Many have been the story dishonourable to Ulfilas and to the Barbarians, and quite inadequate to the result that they profess to explain, which, probably without any untruthful intent, left ecclesiastical historians put into circulation in order to account for this unacceptable triumph of Heterodoxy. It has been represented over and over again that the Goths were seduced into Arianism by the Emperor Valens, that their abandonment of the Nicene faith was the price paid for that settlement within the confines of the Empire which will shortly have to be described, and that the broker in this unholy compact was their revered bishop Ulfilas. A careful study of the ecclesiastical condition of the Eastern provinces during the fourth century might have suggested the improbability of this view. The simple and obvious truth is that Ulfilas was an Arian because every considerable ecclesiastic with whom he came in contact at Constantinople was Arian, because  p73 that was the form of faith (or so it seemed to him) which he had been at first taught, because he was consecrated bishop by the great Arian controversialist Eusebius of Nicomedia, and apparently received the kiss of peace from the prelates to whose ranks he had just been admitted at the great Arian synod of Antioch (341), because, in short, during the whole time that his theological mind was being moulded, Arianism, of one kind or another, was Orthodoxy at Constantinople, and Athanasius was denounced as a dangerous Heretic. He himself, when lying at the point of death, prefaced his Arian confession of faith with these emphatic words: 'I, Ulfila, bishop and confessor, have ever thus believed' (semper sic credidi): and there is no reason to doubt that, as far as any man can speak accurately of his own spiritual history, these words were not true.

It is necessary here briefly to indicate the nature of the Arianism of Ulfilas which was probably that of the great majority of his Gothic converts, not in order to discuss the truth or falsehood of their doctrines, but solely, in the interest of historic accuracy, to prevent them from being identified with modern schools of thought with which they had nothing in common. In the bewildering maze of the great theological controversy of the fourth century we can discern five great parties, divided as follows:—

1. The Sabellians (represented by Marcellus and Photinus) said in effect 'There is no distinction of persons in the Godhead. The Son is the Father.'

 p74  2. The Athanasians, while rejecting the doctrine of the sabellians as heresy, clung with indomitable tenacity to the words of the creed adopted at Nicaea: 'The Son is of one substance (Homo-ousios) with the Father.'

3. The Semi-Arians, the party to which the Emperor Constantius at first belonged, said, 'The Son is of like substance (Homoi-ousios, not Homoousios) with the Father,' and they went on to introduce refinements between the terms for 'being' and 'substance' which the Latin language utterly failed to render.

4. Here broke in the advocates of the Homoion, the party to which Ulfilas belonged, who said impatiently, 'Away with these subtleties. Neither Homo-ousios nor Homoi-ousios is to be found in the Scriptures. Jesus Christ, in whom we believe, is "the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of God before all ages and before every beginning, by whom all things were made both visible and invisible, born of the Father, the only one of the only one, God of God like (Homoios) to the Father who begat him, according to the Scriptures, and whose generation no one knoweth but the Father who begat him." ' These words are taken from the creed adopted at the Arian Synod of Constantinople (360), a creed which, as we are expressly told,10 received the signature of Bishop Ulfilas. The creed goes on to rehearse, in words slightly amplified from the Nicene, the miraculous  p75 birth, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Christ, and his future coming in glory. The article of belief in the Holy Spirit is qualified in an anti-Trinitarian sense. The creed concludes: 'But since the term Ousia (Being), which was used by the fathers in a very simple and intelligible sense, not being understood by the people, has been a cause of offence, we have thought proper to reject it, as it is not contained in the Holy Scriptures, and we deprecate the least mention of it in future. . . . Nor ought the Hypostasis (Substance) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit to be even named. But we affirm that the Son is like the Father in such a manner as the Holy Scriptures declare and teach. Let therefore all heresies which have been already condemned, or which may have arisen of late, contrary to this exposition of the faith, be Anathema.'

'Like the Father in such manner as the Holy Scriptures declare.' This was the watchword — one might almost say the Shibboleth — of that section of the Arians to which Ulfilas belonged.

5 and 6. The Anomoeans, who maintained that the Son was not even like the Father, though divine, and the small sect of the Psilanthropists who asserted that Jesus was merely and purely man, need not be further noticed here, since neither Ulfilas nor, as far as we can discover, any of the Barbarian chiefs who invaded the Roman Empire ever adopted these views.

But if the theological chasm between the Barbarian  p76 converts of Ulfilas and the party which ultimately triumphed in the Church was somewhat less than our modern prepossessions would have led us to suppose, from a political and historical point of view the disastrous effect of the conversion of the Goths and their kindred to the Arian form of Christianity can hardly be stated too strongly. That conversion moment Barbarians parties to the long law-suit between Arians and Trinitarians, which had dragged on its weary length through the greater part of the fourth century, and in which, up to the time that we are now speaking of, the persecuting spirit, the bitterness, the abuse of court favour, had been mainly on the side of the Arians. The tide was now soon to turn, and the disciples of Athanasius were to be the dominant party, the favourites of court and people. Into such a world, into the midst of a clergy and a laity passionately attached to the Homo-ousian formula, the Arian Teutons were about to be poured, not only to subdue and overturn, but if possible to renew and to rebuild. In this work of reconstruction the difference of creeds proved to be a great and often a fatal difficulty. The Barbarian might be tolerated by the Roman; by the Catholic the Arian could not but be loathed. Of even the Heathen there was hope, for he might one day renounce his dumb idols and might seek admission, as the Frank and the Saxon did, into the bosom of the One Catholic and Apostolic Church. But the Schismatic would probably grow  p77 hardened in his sin, he would plant his false bishops and his rival priests side by side with the officers of the true Church in every diocese and parish. There could be no amalgamation for the faithful with the Arians. The only course was to groan under them, to conspire against them, and as soon as possible to expel them.

Our two lines of narrative, the Roman and the Gothic, are now rapidly converging. Let us suppose that we have arrived at the year (364) when the feeble and timid Valens was placed on the Eastern throne by his brother Valentinian. At that time Ulfilas would be in the fifty-third year of his age and the twenty-third of his episcopate. Hermanric, king of the Ostrogoths, a centenarian and more, was still the most important figure in the loosely welded Gothic confederacy. His special royalty may possibly have extended over Northern Hungary, Lithuania, and Southern Russia. The 'torpid' Gepidae dwelt to the north of him, to the south and west the Visigoths, whose settlements may perhaps have occupied the modern countries of Roumania, Transylvania and Southern Hungary. The two great nations, the Ostrogoths and Visigoths, were known at this time to the Romans, perhaps among themselves also, by the respective names of the Gruthungi and Thervingi, but it will be more convenient to disregard these appellations and speak of them by the names which they made conspicuous in later history. Into the degree of connexion or dependence in  p78 which the Gepidae and Visigoths may have stood towards the mightier Ostrogoths it seems useless now to enquire. But it is significant that the rulers of the Visigoths, though they, like the Amal kings of the Ostrogoths, had a great house, the Balthi, sprung from the seed of gods, did not at this time bear the title of King, but contented themselves with some humbler designation, which the Latin historians translated into Judex (Judge).

The Visigoths seem to have considered their long treaty of alliance with Rome as binding them to the house of Constantine personally rather than by official links to the Empire. Acting upon this principle, when Count Procopius, a distant relation of Julian the Apostate, rose in insurrection against Valens and assumed the purple at Constantinople, they sent 10,000 Gothic soldiers to serve under the banner of the usurper. Procopius was soon overpowered and slain, but the war thus kindled smouldered on for three years (367‑369) with no very notable incidents, and at last seems to have degenerated into guerilla warfare and assassination. This at least is the extraordinary narrative of Zosimus: 'For when the Goths did not venture to join in a regular pitched battle, but hid themselves in the swamps and from thence made covert attacks, Valens ordered his soldiers to remain in their regular quarters, but collecting the suttlers and camp followers and those who had charge of the baggage, he promised them a certain sum for every barbarian head which they should bring in  p79 [to his head quartersº at Shumla]. Stimulated by the hope of such gains these men plunged into the forests and morasses, slew any Goths whom they came across, and received the promised reward. And when a great multitude had been destroyed in this fashion, those who were left began to supplicate the Emperor for a peace, which was granted on terms not dishonouring to the Roman name, for it was agreed that the Romans should hold in all security their former possessions, while the barbarians promised not to cross the river nor attack the Roman frontier.'11

This peace, whatever may have been the causes which led up to it, was concluded on a boat moored in the center of the Danube, between the Emperor Valens in person and Athanaric, a warrior who had distinguished shaft during the recent war and had been recently raised to the dignity of Judex of the Visigoths.12 Athanaric, the very type of stern morose adherence to old Gothic ways, had bound shaft to his father by a dreadful oath that he would never set foot on Roman soil, and as it would have been beneath the dignity of the emperor to cross over to him, the via media was adopted, and the high contracting powers met on  p80 well-moored barges in the middle of the rapid Danube.

Over against this sturdy Gothic Conservative, Athanaric, appears the gentler and more attractive but yet powerful figure of Fridigern, who was also a Judge of the Visigoths by this time. Fridigern embraced Christianity and leaned in all things towards friendship with Rome. Athanaric not only remained obstinate in his heathenism but persecuted even to the death those of his subjects who embraced the Roman faith. To test the faith of his followers he sent round a waggon bearing one of the old Gothic idols to their tents, and caused all who refused to worship it to be burnt with their families. A church full of Christian refugees was burnt with all whom it contained. The young and nobly-born Nicetas, one of the chief men of the nation, was, on account of his public preaching of Christianity, dragged away into confinement, ordered to abjure his faith, and on his refusal hacked to pieces and cast into the fire. These men, notwithstanding their probable Arianism, seem to have been honoured as true Christian martyrs by the Catholic Church. Everything about this short and cruel spasm of persecution seems to show that it was due to the flickering up from its embers of the expiring flame of Gothic heathenism.

Civil war, the result of these persecutions, broke out between Athanaric and Fridigern. Apparently each chief fled in turn: it is alleged that Fridigern  p81 was restored by the intervention of Valens; at any rate it seems safe to assert that before the death of Valentinian (375) peace was restored between them.

It appeared probable, at this time, that the Visigoths, the nearest neighbours of the Empire on her Danubian frontier, would rapidly accept her religion and her civilisation, perhaps undergo a peaceful conquest at the hands of her magistrates and her merchants, at least settle down again for another hundred years into the condition of proud and satisfied allies of Rome. We have now to witness the strange and terrible event which falsified all these reasonable expectations, and changed the destinies of every country in Europe from the Volga to the Straits of Gibraltar.


The Author's Notes:

1 It would be a strange and not an impossible coincidence, if this stream, whose name is not mentioned, were the Beresina, of similarly disastrous memory for the Grand Army of Napoleon.

2 'Crescenti populo dum terras coepit addere, incolas patrios reddidit rariores.' (De Rebus Geticis, cap. XVII.)

3 Zosimus, copied by Zonaras.

4 'Vastantes in itinere suo Trojam Iliumque, quae, vix a bello illo Agamemnoniaco aliquantulum respirantes, rursus hostili mucrone deletae sunt.'

5 Jornandes, De Rebus Geticis, cap. XX.

6 Mr. J. T. Wood (Discoveries at Ephesus; London, 1877).

7 Zosimus, I.43.

8 The difficult question of the relation of the alphabet of Ulfilas to the Runes is purposely here left undiscussed.

9 Told by Philostorgius, II.5.

10 Socrates, II.41.

11 Zosimus, IV.11.

12 Though Ammianus (XXVII.5.6) makes Athanaric 'the most powerful man of the tribe of the gruthungi, there can be no doubt that he was really a Visigothic Judex.

Isidore (a Spanish Visigoth) puts the accession of Athanaric in 369, but says that he reigned 13 years. As Athanaric died at the very beginning of 381 he probably began to reign in 367.


Thayer's Note:

a1 a2 Nothing is missing from the table. The Goths used special signs for 90 (𐍁) and 900 (𐍊).

Page updated: 16 Aug 17