Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous chapter]
Book I
Note A

This webpage reproduces a section of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London, 1892

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

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next chapter]
Book I
Note C

Book 1 (continued)

Vol. I
Note B

On the names Ostrogoths and Visigoths

It will be seen from the text that we have no definite information as to the time when the Gothic nation was parted into two heads. Jordanes' statement that the division existed before they left their Scandinavian home, is interesting as a national saga, but quite destitute of historical probability.

Equally hard or harder is it to say when the names Ostrogoth and Visigoth (or, as many scholars prefer to write them, East Goth and West Goth) were first affixed to these two divisions. We might have expected, as one name seems to be correlated to the other, that both would appear in history simultaneously, but in fact 'Ostrogoth' occurs in historical literature nearly 200 years before we have any clear and undoubted use of 'Visigoth.'

(1) If Jordanes, transcribing Cassiodorus, speaks correctly, there was a Gothic king Ostrogotha contemporary with the Emperor Philip (244‑249). In the Historia Augusta (Vita Claudii, vi) we have mention made of 'Austrogothi' among the nations invading the Empire during the reign of Claudius (268‑270). The genuineness of the insertion of this name in the text has been doubted by some, perhaps on insufficient grounds. And as Trebellius Pollio, the author of this part of the Historia Augusta, did not write till about 300, he cannot be regarded as strictly contemporary. Claudian (399), in his poem against Eutropius (II.153), mentions the name

'Ostrogothis colitur, mistisque Gruthungis

Phryx ager.'

These are the chief, if not the only appearances of the name  p101 until the time of Cassiodorus, who no doubt in his Gothic History (written about 520) used it freely, though I cannot discover any trace of its use among the state-papers of Theodoric (the Variae of Cassiodorus).

(2) The earliest occurrence of Visigoth, and that in a defective form, is in the poems of Apollinaris Sidonius. In his Panegyric on Avitus (456) we have 'Vesorum proceres' for the chiefs of the Visigoths, and 'Vesus' for the Visigothic king, Theodoric II: and in the Panegyric on Majorian (458) 'Vesus' as well as 'Ostrogothus' are mentioned among the barbarians who flocked to the standards of the Emperor. After this the name becomes common enough. It occurs in the Variae (III.1), and frequently (under the form Οὐισίγοτθοι) in Procopius, who appears always to designate the Ostrogothic nation by the simple word Γότθοι.

But under what names then were the two sections of the Gothic nation spoken of during these two centuries, when 'Ostrogoth' and 'Visigoth' were so little, if at all, used beyond the Roman historians? The usual answer is that the names Greuthungi and Thervingi, which we meet with in Ammianus Marcellinus and other writers, correspond respectively to the Ostrogoths and Visigoths.​1 This theory, which was hinted at by Mascou​2 and more fully developed by Zeuss,​3 seems upon the whole best to correspond with the facts, though it is not without some difficulties of its own.4

But inasmuch as the two great nations which emerged, the one under Alaric and the other under Theodoric, into the full daylight of history and played their great part on the stage  p102 of the world, setting up kingdoms and helping to throw down an Empire, were undoubtedly called Visigoths and Ostrogoths, it seems best to carry back these names into the darkness of their earlier annals, and by whatever name they may have called themselves in the third and fourth centuries (a point which it is probably hopeless now to determine) to speak of them from the first dawn of their separate existence under those two well-understood historic appellations.

The Author's Notes:

1 Greuthungi is used four times and Thervingi three times by Ammianus: Trutungi (= Greuthungi?) once in the Historia Augusta: Thervingi ('pars alia Gothorum') once by Mamertinus in his Panegyric on Maximian: Greuthungi six times by Claudian: Thervingi once by Eutropius.

2 History of the Ancient Germans, VII.13.

3 Pp. 406‑413.

4 One difficulty is that in the passage of the Historia Augusta, already quoted (if genuine), Trutungi (= Greuthungi) and Austrogothi are spoken of as two separate peoples: 'Denique Scytharum diversi populi, Peucini, Trutungi, Austrogothi &c. praedae cupiditate in Romanum solum et Rempublicam venerunt' (Trebellius Pollio in Vitâ Claudii, vi). Another is that Claudian, as we have seen, speaks of 'Ostrogoths mixed with Gruthungi.' Another, that Ammianus (XXVII.5.6)º seems to speak of Athanaric, who was certainly a Visigoth, as judex of the Greuthungi. But the passage is susceptible of another interpretation; and as Ammianus in other places speaks of Athanaric as 'judex Thervingorum,' we must suppose that if he here calls him otherwise it is owing to a slip of the pen.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 4 May 20