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Goths in the 3rd Century


JORDANES

THE ORIGIN AND DEEDS OF THE GOTHS

551 AD

translated by Charles C. Mierow

Princeton University Press, 1915


The Goths in the Third Century AD

But let us now return to the point whence we made our digression and tell how the stock of this people of whom I speak reached the end of its course. Now Ablabius the historian relates that in Scythia, where we have said that they were dwelling above an arm of the Pontic Sea, part of them who held the eastern region and whose king was Ostrogotha, were called Ostrogoths, that is, eastern Goths, either from his name or from the place. But the rest were called Visigoths, that is, the Goths of the western country.

As already said, they crossed the Danube and dwelt a little while in Moesia and Thrace. From the remnant of these came Maximinus, the Emperor succeeding Alexander the son of Mama. For Symmachus relates it thus in the fifth book of his history, saying that upon the death of Caesar Alexander, Maximinus was made Emperor by the army; a man born in Thrace of most humble parentage, his father being a Goth named Micca, and his mother a woman of the Alani called Ababa. He reigned three years and lost alike his empire and his life while making war on the Christians.

Now after his first years spent in rustic life, he had come from his flocks to military service in the reign of the Emperor Severus and at the time when he was celebrating his son's birthday. It happened that the Emperor was giving military games. When Maximinus saw this, although he was a semi-barbarian youth, he besought the Emperor in his native tongue to give him permission to wrestle with the trained soldiers for the prizes offered.

Severus marvelling much at his great size--for his stature, it is said, was more than eight feet,--bade him contend in wrestling with the camp followers, in order that no injury might befall his soldiers at the hands of this wild fellow. Thereupon Maximinus threw sixteen attendants with so great ease that he conquered them one by one without taking any rest by pausing between the bouts. So then, when he had won the prizes, it was ordered that he should be sent into the army and should take his first campaign with the cavalry. On the third day after this, when the Emperor went out to the field, he saw him coursing about in barbarian fashion and bade a tribune restrain him and teach him Roman discipline. But when he understood it was the Emperor who was speaking about him, he came forward and began to run ahead of him as he rode.

Then the Emperor spurred on his horse to a slow trot and wheeled in many a circle hither and thither with various turns, until he was weary. And then he said to him "Are you willing to wrestle now after your running, my little Thracian?" "As much as you like, O Emperor," he answered. So Severus leaped from his horse and ordered the freshest soldiers to wrestle with him. But he threw to the ground seven very powerful youths, even as before, taking no breathing space between the bouts. So he alone was given prizes of silver and a golden necklace by Caesar. Then he was bidden to serve in the body guard of the Emperor.

After this he was an officer under Antoninus Caracalla, often increasing his fame by his deeds, and rose to many military grades and finally to the centurionship as the reward of his active service. Yet afterwards, when Macrinus became Emperor, he refused military service for almost three years, and though he held the office of tribune, he never came into the presence of Macrinus, thinking his rule shameful because he had won it by committing a crime.

Then he returned to Eliogabalus, believing him to be the son of Antoninus, and entered upon his tribuneship. After his reign, he fought with marvellous success against the Parthians, under Alexander the son of Mama. When he was slain in an uprising of the soldiers at Mogontiacum, Maximinus himself was made Emperor by a vote of the army, without a decree of the senate. But he marred all his good deeds by persecuting the Christians in accordance with an evil vow and, being slain by Pupienus at Aquileia, left the kingdom to Philip. These matters we have borrowed from the history of Symmachus for this our little book, in order to show that the race of which we speak attained to the very highest station in the Roman Empire. But our subject requires us to return in due order to the point whence we digressed.

Now the Gothic race gained great fame in the region where they were then dwelling, that is in the Scythian land on the shore of Pontus, holding undisputed sway over great stretches of country, many arms of the sea and many river courses. By their strong right arm the Vandals were often laid low, the Marcomanni held their footing by paying tribute and the princes of the Quadi were reduced to slavery. Now when the aforesaid Philip--who, with his son Philip, was the only Christian emperor before Constantine--ruled over the Romans, in the second year of his reign Rome completed its one thousandth year. He withheld from the Goths the tribute due them; whereupon they were naturally enraged and instead of friends became his foes. For though they dwelt apart under their own kings, yet they had been allied to the Roman state and received annual gifts.

And what more? Ostrogotha and his men soon crossed the Danube and ravaged Moesia and Thrace. Philip sent the senator Decius against him. And since he could do nothing against the Getae, he released his own soldiers from military service and sent them back to private life, as though it had been by their neglect that the Goths had crossed the Danube. When, as he supposed, he had thus taken vengeance on his soldiers, he returned to Philip. But when the soldiers found themselves expelled from the army after so many hardships, in their anger they had recourse to the protection of Ostrogotha, king of the Goths.

He received them, was aroused by their words and presently led out three hundred thousand armed men, having as allies for this war some of the Taifali and Astringi and also three thousand of the Carpi, a race of men very ready to make war and frequently hostile to the Romans. But in later times when Diocletian and Maximian were Emperors, the Caesar Galerius Maximianus conquered them and made them tributary to the Roman Empire. Besides these tribes, Ostrogotha had Goths and Peucini from the island of Peuce, which lies in the mouths of the Danube where they empty into the Sea of Pontus. He placed in command Argaithus and Guntheric, the noblest leaders of his race.

They speedily crossed the Danube, devastated Moesia a second time and approached Marcianople, the famed metropolis of that land. Yet after a long siege they departed, upon receiving money from the inhabitants.

Now since we have mentioned Marcianople, we may briefly relate a few matters in connection with its founding. They say that the Emperor Trajan built this city for the following reason. While his sister's daughter Marcia was bathing in the stream called Potamus--a river of great clearness and purity that rises in the midst of the city--she wished to draw some water from it and by chance dropped into its depths the golden pitcher she was carrying. Yet though very heavy from its weight of metal, it emerged from the waves a long time afterwards. It surely is not a usual thing for an empty vessel to sink; much less that, when once swallowed up, it should be cast up by the waves and float again. Trajan marvelled at hearing this and believed there was some divinity in the stream. So he built a city and called it Marcianople after the name of his sister.

From this city, then, as we were saying, the Getae returned after a long siege to their own land, enriched by the ransom they had received. Now the race of the Gepidae was moved with envy when they saw them laden with booty and so suddenly victorious everywhere, and made war on their kinsmen. Should you ask how the Getae and Gepidae are kinsmen, I can tell you in a few words. You surely remember that in the beginning I said the Goths went forth from the bosom of the island of Scandza with Berig, their king, sailing in only three ships toward the hither shore of Ocean, namely to Gothiscandza.

One of these three ships proved to be slower than the others, as is usually the case, and thus is said to have given the tribe their name, for in their language gepanta means slow. Hence it came to pass that gradually and by corruption the name Gepidae was coined for them by way of reproach. For undoubtedly they too trace their origin from the stock of the Goths, but because, as I have said, gepanta means something slow and stolid, the word Gepidae arose as a gratuitous name of reproach. I do not believe this is very far wrong, for they are slow of thought and too sluggish for quick movement of their bodies.

These Gepidae were then smitten by envy while they dwelt in the province of Spesis on an island surrounded by the shallow waters of the Vistula. This island they called, in the speech of their fathers, Gepedoios; but it is now inhabited by the race of the Vividarii, since the Gepidae themselves have moved to better lands. The Vividarii are gathered from various races into this one asylum, if I may call it so, and thus they form a nation.

So then, as we were saying, Fastida, king of the Gepidae, stirred up his quiet people to enlarge their boundaries by war. He overwhelmed the Burgundians, almost annihilating them, and conquered a number of other races also. He unjustly provoked the Goths, being the first to break the bonds of kinship by unseemly strife. He was greatly puffed up with vain glory, but in seeking to acquire new lands for his growing nation, he only reduced the numbers of his own countrymen.

For he sent ambassadors to Ostrogotha, to whose rule Ostrogoths and Visigoths alike, that is, the two peoples of the same tribe, were still subject. Complaining that he was hemmed in by rugged mountains and dense forests, he demanded one of two things,--that Ostrogotha should either prepare for war or give up part of his lands to them.

Then Ostrogotha, king of the Goths, who was a man of firm mind, answered the ambassadors that he did indeed dread such a war and that it would be a grievous and infamous thing to join battle with their kin,--but he would not give up his lands. And why say more? The Gepidae hastened to take arms and Ostrogotha likewise moved his forces against them, lest he should seem a coward. They met at the town of Galtis, near which the river Auha flows, and there both sides fought with great valor; indeed the similarity of their arms and of their manner of fighting turned them against their own men. But the better cause and their natural alertness aided the Goths.

Finally night put an end to the battle as a part of the Gepidae were giving way. Then Fastida, king of the Gepidae, left the field of slaughter and hastened to his own land, as much humiliated with shame and disgrace as formerly he had been elated with pride. The Goths returned victorious, content with the retreat of the Gepidae, and dwelt in peace and happiness in their own land so long as Ostrogotha was their leader.

After his death, Cniva divided the army into two parts and sent some to waste Moesia, knowing that it was undefended through the neglect of the emperors. He himself with seventy thousand men hastened to Euscia, that is, Novae. When driven from this place by the general Gallus, he approached Nicopolis, a very famous town situated near the Iatrus river. This city Trajan built when he conquered the Sarmatians and named it the City of Victory. When the Emperor Decius drew near, Cniva at last withdrew to the regions of Haemus, which were not far distant. Thence he hastened to Philippopolis, with his forces in good array.

When the Emperor Decius learned of his departure, he was eager to bring relief to his own city and, crossing Mount Haemus, came to Beroa. While he was resting his horses and his weary army in that place, all at once Cniva and his Goths fell upon him like a thunderbolt. He cut the Roman army to pieces and drove the Emperor, with a few who had succeeded in escaping, across the Alps again to Euscia in Moesia, where Gallus was then stationed with a large force of soldiers as guardian of the frontier. Collecting an army from this region as well as from Oescus, he prepared for the conflict of the coming war.

But Cniva took Philippopolis after a long siege and then, laden with spoil, allied himself to Priscus, the commander in the city, to fight against Decius. In the battle that followed they quickly pierced the son of Decius with an arrow and cruelly slew him. The father saw this, and although he is said to have exclaimed, to cheer the hearts of his soldiers: "Let no one mourn; the death of one soldier is not a great loss to the republic", he was yet unable to endure it, because of his love for his son. So he rode against the foe, demanding either death or vengeance, and when he came to Abrittus, a city of Moesia, he was himself cut off by the Goths and slain, thus making an end of his dominion and of his life. This place is to-day called the Altar of Decius, because he there offered strange sacrifices to idols before the battle.

Then upon the death of Decius, Gallus and Volusianus succeeded to the Roman Empire. At this time a destructive plague, almost like death itself, such as we suffered nine years ago, blighted the face of the whole earth and especially devastated Alexandria and all the land of Egypt. The historian Dionysius gives a mournful account of it and Cyprian, our own bishop and venerable martyr in Christ, also describes it in his book entitled "On Mortality". At this time the Goths frequently ravaged Moesia, through the neglect of the Emperors.

When a certain Aemilianus saw that they were free to do this, and that they could not be dislodged by anyone without great cost to the republic, he thought that he too might be able to achieve fame and fortune. So he seized the rule in Moesia and, taking all the soldiers he could gather, began to plunder cities and people. In the next few months, while an armed host was being gathered against him, he wrought no small harm to the state. Yet he died almost at the beginning of his evil attempt, thus losing at once his life and the power he coveted.

Now though Gallus and Volusianus, the Emperors we have mentioned, departed this life after remaining in power for barely two years, yet during this space of two years which they spent on earth they reigned amid universal peace and favor. Only one thing was laid to their charge, namely the great plague. But this was an accusation made by ignorant slanderers, whose custom it is to wound the lives of others with their malicious bite. Soon after they came to power they made a treaty with the race of the Goths. When both rulers were dead, it was no long time before Gallienus usurped the throne.

While he was given over to luxurious living of every sort, Respa, Veduc and Thuruar, leaders of the Goths, took ship and sailed across the strait of the Hellespont to Asia. There they laid waste many populous cities and set fire to the renowned temple of Diana at Ephesus, which, as we said before, the Amazons built. Being driven from the neighborhood of Bithynia, they destroyed Chalcedon, which Cornelius Avitus afterwards restored to some extent. Yet even to-day, though it is happily situated near the royal city, it still shows some traces of its ruin as a witness to posterity.

After their success, the Goths recrossed the strait of the Hellespont, laden with booty and spoil, and returned along the same route by which they had entered the lands of Asia, sacking Troy and Ilium on the way. These cities, which had scarce recovered a little from the famous war with Agamemnon, were thus destroyed anew by the hostile sword. After the Goths had thus devastated Asia, Thrace next felt their ferocity. For they went thither and presently attacked Anchiali, a city at the foot of Haemus and not far from the sea. Sardanapalus, king of the Parthians, had built this city long ago between an inlet of the sea and the base of Haemus.

There they are said to have stayed for many days, enjoying the baths of the hot springs which are situated about twelve miles from the city of Anchiali. There they gush from the depths of their fiery source, and among the innumerable hot springs of the world they are esteemed as specially famous and efficacious for their healing virtues.

After these events, the Goths had already returned home when they were summoned at the request of the Emperor Maximian to aid the Romans against the Parthians. They fought for him faithfully, serving as auxiliaries. But after Caesar Maximian by their aid had routed Narseus, king of the Persians, the grandson of Sapor the Great, taking as spoil all his possessions, together with his wives and his sons, and when Diocletian had conquered Achilles in Alexandria and Maximianus Herculius had broken the Quinquegentiani in Africa, thus winning peace for the empire, they began rather to neglect the Goths.

Now it had long been a hard matter for the Roman army to fight against any nations whatsoever without them. This is evident from the way in which the Goths were so frequently called upon. Thus they were summoned by Constantine to bear arms against his kinsman Licinius. Later, when he was vanquished and shut up in Thessalonica and deprived of his power, they slew him with the sword of Constantine the victor.

In like manner it was the aid of the Goths that enabled him to build the famous city that is named after him, the rival of Rome, inasmuch as they entered into a truce with the Emperor and furnished him forty thousand men to aid him against various peoples. This body of men, namely, the Allies, and the service they rendered in war are still spoken of in the land to this day. Now at that time they prospered under the rule of their kings Ariaric and Aoric. Upon their death Geberich appeared as successor to the throne, a man renowned for his valor and noble birth.

For he was the son of Hilderith, who was the son of Ovida, who was the son of Nidada; and by his illustrious deeds he equalled the glory of his race. Soon he sought to enlarge his country's narrow bounds at the expense of the race of the Vandals and Visimar, their king. This Visimar was of the stock of the Asdingi, which is eminent among them and indicates a most warlike descent, as Dexippus the historian relates. He states furthermore that by reason of the great extent of their country they could scarcely come from Ocean to our frontier in a year's time. At that time they dwelt in the land where the Gepidae now live, near the rivers Marisia, Miliare, Gilpil and the Grisia, which exceeds in size all previously mentioned.

They then had on the east the Goths, on the west the Marcomanni, on the north the Hermunduli and on the south the Hister, which is also called the Danube. At the time when the Vandals were dwelling in this region, war was begun against them by Geberich, king of the Goths, on the shore of the river Marisia which I have mentioned. Here the battle raged for a little while on equal terms. But soon Visimar himself, the king of the Vandals, was overthrown, together with the greater part of his people.

When Geberich, the famous leader of the Goths, had conquered and spoiled the Vandals, he returned to his own place whence he had come. Then the remnant of the Vandals who had escaped, collecting a band of their unwarlike folk, left their ill-fated country and asked the Emperor Constantine for Pannonia. Here they made their home for about sixty years and obeyed the commands of the emperors like subjects. A long time afterward they were summoned thence by Stilicho, Master of the Soldiery, Ex-Consul and Patrician, and took possession of Gaul. Here they plundered their neighbors and had no settled place of abode.

Soon Geberich, king of the Goths, departed from human affairs and Hermanaric, noblest of the Amali, succeeded to the throne. He subdued many warlike peoples of the north and made them obey his laws, and some of our ancestors have justly compared him to Alexander the Great. Among the tribes he conquered were the Golthescytha, Thiudos, Inaunxis, Vasinabroncae, Merens, Mordens, Imniscaris, Rogas, Tadzans, Athaul, Navego, Bubegenae and Coldae.

But though famous for his conquest of so many races, he gave himself no rest until he had slain some in battle and then reduced to his sway the remainder of the tribe of the Heruli, whose chief was Alaric. Now the aforesaid race, as the historian Ablabius tells us, dwelt near Lake Maeotis in swampy places which the Greeks call hele; hence they were named Heluri. They were a people swift of foot, and on that account were the more swollen with pride, for there was at that time no race that did not choose from them its light-armed troops for battle. But though their quickness often saved them from others who made war upon them, yet they were overthrown by the slowness and steadiness of the Goths; and the lot of fortune brought it to pass that they, as well as the other tribes, had to serve Hermanaric, king of the Getae.

After the slaughter of the Heruli, Hermanaric also took arms against the Venethi. This people, though despised in war, was strong in numbers and tried to resist him. But a multitude of cowards is of no avail, particularly when God permits an armed multitude to attack them. These people, as we started to say at the beginning of our account or catalogue of nations, though off-shoots from one stock, have now three names, that is, Venethi, Antes and Sclaveni. Though they now rage in war far and wide, in punishment for our sins, yet at that time they were all obedient to Hermanaric's commands.

This ruler also subdued by his wisdom and might the race of the Aesti, who dwell on the farthest shore of the German Ocean, and ruled all the nations of Scythia and Germany by his own prowess alone.


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