The Goths

The Goths were Germanic tribes who came from the east; the etymology of the name is basically "pourers" (of semen, i.e. manly men, or a reference to some river), and it is likely that several groups were referred to generally by that name.

They may or may not be identical to the inhabitants of Swedish "Gotland" and the Anglo-Saxon "Geats." Both East and West Norse use the same word for both them and the Goths of the East - Gotar and Gutar respectively - and it has been argued that they were forced to leave Scandinavia for the Baltic regions and modern Poland by a worsening of the climate around 300 BCE. But they may have been different peoples; the Gothic language was East Germanic, not Norse/North Germanic, and although there is a now little spoken native Gotlandic language, Gutnish (known in Swedish as Gutniska or gutamĺl), it is East Norse.

They precipitated crisis in the Roman Empire in the 3rd century by pushing other tribes westwards; the Upper German limes fell in 254, the whole interior of Gaul was ravaged in 268-78, and the Goths themselves raided Thrace, Greece, and Asia Minor by land and sea between 258 and 269. In 267 they sacked Byzantium. They were defeated at the Battle of Naissus in 271 and driven back across the Danube, but the province of Dacia was abandoned to them.

Trade with Byzantium Romanized them, and many were converted to the Arian form of Xianity by Wulfila or Ulfilas (c. 310-383), a Gothic or half-Gothic missionary who devised a unique alphabet in order to render the Bible from Greek into Gothic for their use.

In the fourth century, two rival chiefs or kings struggled for political and religious power. Anthanaric, still heathen, fought the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens in 369 and ultimately negotiated a favorable peace. Fritigern, an Arian, was preferred by Valens. In 376 Fritigern asked Valens for asylum for his people from the Huns, who were starting to overrun their kingdom in Scythia. Valens allowed them to settle on the south bank of the Danube and even assisted them in crossing the river, but following a famine the Gothic War (376-382) erupted, and the Goths killed Valens at the Battle of Adrianople.


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