The Visigoths and Ostrogoths

The Goths in Dacia and Mœsia came to be known as Visigoths. As allies of Rome, fœderati, they supplied troops. Alaric served as a military leader under Theodosius I in a successful campaign to crush a rival claimant to the Roman Empire; following Theodosius' death in 395, the Empire was divided between his two sons, Arcadius ruling the east and Honorius the west. The Goths resented their losses in the civil war, suspecting they were being deliberately put in harm's way to reduce their own threat to the Empire, and Alaric resented not having been promoted for his service; accordingly he was raised on a shield, proclaimed king (Alaric I), and marched against the Eastern Empire. He did not succeed in conquering Byzantium, but did heavy damage in Greece and the Eastern Empire, in confusion, capitulated and appointed him Magister Militum per Illyricum ("Master of Troops for Illyria"), giving him both the approval he had sought and the resources to do anything he wanted. In 401-02 he invaded Italy but was beaten back from Rome; in 408 he laid siege to the city and was paid off; in 410 he sacked it, but reputedly was unexpectedly merciful to the inhabitants. By this stage in history, Italy drew on North Africa for food, and Alaric accordingly set sail across the Mediterranean to consolidate his hold on Italy by capturing the food source, but his fleet was destroyed by a storm. He himself died in Cosenza soon afterwards; his men diverted a river and buried him in the riverbed so that no one would violate his remains.

The Visigoths then wandered westwards, tracing the same path the Cimbri, Teutones, and Ambroni had earlier followed. Eventually and for unclear reasons the Emperor Honorius granted them Aquitania, southern Gaul, as fœderati. They established a small kingdom with Toulouse as its capital and slowly extended their reach southwards into Hispania, displacing the Vandals and Alans. Their rule in Gaul was cut short in 507 at the Battle of Vouillé, when they were defeated by the Franks under Clovis I. Thereafter the only territory north of the Pyrenees that the Visigoths held was the area of Narbonne and Septimania, but Hispania came to be dominated by a small elite of Visigoths, at the expense of the Byzantine province of Spania and the Suebic Kingdom of Galicia.

In the meantime the Ostrogoths - the Goths who had remained in Scythia - defeated the Huns at the Battle of Nedao in 454. Again taking advantage of chaos in the Roman Empire and strife between its two branches, starting in 488 their king Theodoric the Great conquered all of Italy plus the lands to the north, Sicily, and Dalmatia, at the request of the Eastern Emperor Zeno. (Rome had been conquered by the Hunnish Odoacer, whom Theodoric personally slew.)

Visigothic auxiliaries may or may not have assisted in this war; whatever the particulars, the two Gothic branches were briefly reunited under Theodoric. He married his daughter to Alaric II and after his death at Vouillé in 507 became regent of the kingdom of Toulouse, effectively giving him control of the entire Iberian peninsula as well, and he made a series of marital alliances with the Frankish and Burgundian kingdoms. It seems he saw himself as a kind of Germanic overlord and guardian of Germanic interests. This strengthening of power eventually led the Byzantine emperor to fear that Theodoric would become too strong, and he made an alliance with the Frankish king, Clovis I, to counter and ultimately overthrow the Ostrogoths.

The Ostrogothic kingdom persisted until 553 under Teia, when Italy briefly fell back under Byzantine control, until the conquest of the Lombards in 568. The Visigothic kingdom lasted longer, until 711 under Roderic, when it had to yield to the Muslim Umayyad invasion of Spain.


© 2008 Völuspá.org | © 2008 Articles, Analysis and Artwork to their respective creators
Eddas, Sagas and Folklore Public Domain