Early History of the Goths

In the early period of the first millennium AD, the tribes known as the Goths are said to have journeyed from southern Scandinavia (the island of Gotland is commonly considered to be partial proof) and settled on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea. Over the subsequent centuries these peoples migrated south and generally east, harrying the other tribes they met and forcing them before the Goths. By the fifth century AD the Goths had reached the Black Sea and settled from the Ukraine to the areas north of the Danube River.

Those settling near the Danube and Dniester Rivers would become the Visigoths, while their brothers to the east became the Ostrogoths. The Visigoths first are mentioned when they began sweeping raids into the Balkans in 251 AD, resulting in the deaths of the Emperor Decius and the Emperor Herennius. In 267, the Visigoths sailed to Athens and sacked the city. It was at this time that they invaded the Roman provinces of Pannonia and Illyricum in a large-scale conquest of the Balkans, which resulted in a threatened invasion of northern Italy.

This first wave was defeated at on the northeastern border of Italia in the summer of 268 and forced backwards. They were again driven back at the Battle of Naissus in September of 269. Though they were driven back over the next few years, the Visigoths managed to maintain hold on the province of Dacia and in 271 AD Emperor Aurelian was forced to remove the Roman holdings from the area.

The Visigoths and the Empire

While they remained in Dacia, the Visigoths converted to the Christian sect of Aryanism and slowly became a more settled populace. Within the next few years, the Visigoths would be set upon both by the Ostrogoths, who were forced south and west by the invading Huns, and then by the Huns themselves. Fitigern, one of the leaders of the Visigoths, was now forced to ask for passage south of the Danube, in hopes that the river would block the Huns from attacking the Visigoths yet more. In return the Visigoths would provide soldiers for the Roman armies. The agreement was implemented and the Visigoths moved south, crossing into Roman lands, but it would prove to be a short lived agreement and Rome would be made to pay vastly for their breaking of it.

Within the year, famine broke out in the lands now occupied by the Visigoths, and the newest Roman subjects appealed for help. Treated cruelly by the Roman governors in the area, they next appealed to Emperor Valens, hoping for some form of succor. When help did not arrive the Visigoths considered their agreement broken and a new age of warfare sprung up between themselves and Rome. The Visigoths would meet the Roman armies at the Battle of Adrianople on August 9, 378, where Fitigern led his people to victory against the might of Rome and Emperor Valens fell to the sword.

The next emperor of Rome, Theodosius I, would make peace with the Visigoths in 379, but this also would last no more than a few years. Theodosius would settle the Visigoths in Moesia in the Balkans and made them protectors of the area. In 395 both the Romans and Visigoths would crown new leaders. The Visigoths were now led by Alaric and the Roman Empire was now led by the, less than capable, emperors Arcadius, in the east, and Honorius, in the west.

The next 15 years would bring intermittent conflict separated by years of uneasy peace. The final binding between the Roman Empire and the Visigoths were broken in 408 AD though, when Honorius murdered the general Stilicho and the legions massacred the families of 30,000 barbarian soldiers who had been serving in the Roman army. This was the final straw for Alaric, who now marched for Rome.

With his armies before the gates of Rome, Alaric requested terms and was refused. So it was that on August 24, 410 that the Visigoth armies sacked the eternal city of Rome. Peace would be but a few years from the sack of Rome and with it would bring a change in homelands for the Visigoths. Alaric would not long outlive his great victory, and died the same year. He was succeeded by one Ataulf, who led the Visigoths to new lands in Gaul where he was unable to form the necessary alliances with the Roman Empire, was forced to flee to Spain, and finally was assassinated.

It would be under the next Visigoth leader, Wallia, that Rome would finally accept the Visigoths as allies and federates. A scant three years after settling in Spain though, the Visigoths were called to become the protectors of Aquitania Secunda, in southern Gaul, between the Garonne and Loire Rivers by the Emperor Honorius. Wallia died shortly after the tribe had settled in their new home and was succeeded by one Theodoric I, who would in turn fall to Attila in the Battle of Chalons in 451 AD. Though Theodoric’s life was cut short, he is remembered as the first Visigoth leader who could truly be considered a king.

The Visigoth Kingdom

Under Theodoric’s successor, Euric, the Visigoths continued to expand their realm. It would be Euric, who would unify the Visigoth nation and its quarrelsome factions. By 475 AD, he had forced the Roman’s to grant the Visigoths full independence. It was during this time that the Vandals, long a tribe that had controlled much of Roman Spain, were locked out of Spain for good and forced to remain in their new home of North Africa. Euric also beat the Suavi back into Galicia. The Gallic kingdom would reach its height by 507; encompassing Aquitaine and almost all of Iberia, except the north of Spain, which was ruled by the Basque kingdom, and the northwest of Spain, which was ruled by the Suavi.

Imperial rule would not last much longer though and eventually the “fall of the Western Roman Empire” became a fact. Even so, the majority of the populace considered themselves Roman and was ruled by the Theodosian Code. Though Euric compiled his own code of laws, it saw little use and is little remembered; most suspect it was used solely among the 200,000 or so Visigoths, while the five to six million Hispano-Romans adhered to the old laws. Under Euric’s son, Alaric II, the Breviary of Alaric was published, which updated the Theodosian Code.

It was Euric’s son, Alaric II, who would oversee the decline of the Gallic kingdom. In 507 the Franks seized Aquitaine, excepting the small strip of land known as Septimania, and Alaric was killed by King Clovis at the Battle of Vouille. Toledo eventually became the new capital and the Visigoths lost much of their strength. They still had not managed to win a hold of the people of Spain and the kingdom in most respects consisted of only the Visigoth peoples, while the Hispano-Romans still pledged fealty to the Imperial Throne, however weak its power might by now have been. In 554 both Granada and Andalusia were seized by the Byzantine armies, for the emperor Justinian I, leading to much rejoicing by the Roman population of the area.

It would be Leovigild, who ruled from 568-586, who would regain some of the former power of the Visigoths. He conquered Suavi in 584 and subdued the Basques afterwards. Following the victorious campaigns, Leovigild would strengthen his claim from Toledo and adopt the Roman symbols of monarchy. His demand that the Romans under his rule convert to Aryanism would cause many problems though and the area of Baetica rose in revolt under the leadership of Leovigild’s own son, Hermenegild. When the Byzantium failed to aid the rebels though, Leovigild managed to win victory and maintain his throne, but would not long outlive his victory.

Leovigild’s son Reccared rose to the throne in 586 and immediately would try to salve the kingdom's wounds. Recognizing that the majority of the population was strictly Catholic, the new king reversed his father’s policy and announced his own conversion to Catholicism. From this point onward, the population of Spain was willing to grow closer to their monarchs and the Gallic kingdom flourished again.

As a direct result of the new peace, within the kingdom itself, the King Suinthila was able to retake the Byzantium controlled lands by 624. The following century was a time of prosperity for the reborn kingdom. The converted Visigoths held great prestige and were able to appoint Bishops within their lands and to summon them to councils. The bishops, which in many ways were the direct leaders of the Roman peoples of Spain would enact laws and guide the people in the ways espoused in these councils, thus leading to a harmonious balance of power within the kingdom.

Further, the Bishops tried to lend a veneer of divine monarchy to the kings, anointing them with oils that placed the king under God’s blessing. The basic Roman system remained the form of government for the kingdom in most places, with the established provinces being ruled by dukes, counts and judges in their turn. Still over time the Visigoths became less German and more Roman, blending with their subject’s culture rather than forcing their own culture upon their subjects. The Liber Iudiciorum, a set of laws codified by the King Recceswinth showed very little German influence and rather adhered much to the old Roman laws.

The End of the Visigoths

When King Wamba was deposed in 680 AD, after attempting needed reforms within the military structure of the kingdom, sudden rifts showed deep. Persecution of the Jews provided the needed scapegoat for a few more years of stability, but after the death of King Witizia in 710, the situation worsened terribly. Witizia’s rightful son was unable to gain his succession and instead one Roderick, Duke of Baetica, was made king.

Witizia’s family retaliated by asking the Muslim governors in North Africa to aid, but instead of leading to their own victory, they had let the wolves in the doors. Turiq Ibn Ziyad, the governor of Tangier landed in Calpe (Gibraltar), in the year 711 AD, and proceeded to defeat the army of King Roderick, on July 19, 711, near the Guadalete River. The Muslim armies quickly overran Spain and the Visigoth Kingdom would fail to last the ages, pushed completely out of existence within months.


Visigoth Kings

Balthi Dynasty

Alaric (395 - 410)
Ataulf (410 - 415)
Sigeric (415)
Wallia (415 - 419)
Theodorid I (419 - 451)
Thorismund (451 - 453)
Theodorid II (453 - 466)
Euric (466 - 484)
Alaric II (484 - 507)
Gesalec (507 - 511)
Theodoric the Great (511 - 526)
Amalaric (526 - 531)

Later Kings

Theudis (531 - 548)
Theudigisclus (548 - 549)
Agil (549 - 554)
Athanagild (554 - 567)
Liuva I (567 - 568)
Leovigild (568 - 586)
Reccared (586 - 601)
Liuva II (601 - 603)
Witteric (603 - 610)
Gundemar (610 - 612)
Sisebut (612 - 621)
Suinthila (621 - 640)
Tulga (640 - 641)
Chindaswinth (641 - 649)
Reccaswinth (649 - 672)
Wamba (672 - 680)
Erwig (680 - 687)
Egica (687 - 701)
Witizia (701 - 710)
Roderic (710 - 711)

Vis"i*goth (?), n. [L. Visegothae, pl. Cf. West, and Goth.]

One of the West Goths. See the Note under Goth.

-- Vis`i*goth"ic (#), a.

 

© Webster 1913.

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