The word ‘Goth’ has changed in meaning over the past millennia, many people nowadays appropriate the word Goth with the unique style, fashion and attitude of a small demographic of people, much like grunge and punk. Then there is the artistic architectural style known as the ‘gothic’ style which uses rib vaulting and flying buttress, the glass was largely stylised with stained glass and rose windows.


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Ribbed Vault of Reims Cathedral


The Gothic style of architecture originated in the 12th century and was largely used for religious buildings such as churches and Cathedrals.


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Example of the Flying Butress of the Ameins Cathederal


Though these are all incredible and interesting in their own right the ‘Goths’ this article is written on is that of the people that lived in the past and their partial but significant role in dissembling the Roman world. These people who are said to have a significant role is dissembling Roman powers are largely unknown and that is understandable as the origins of these people is still relatively unknown but their effect is documented with some impact. So who are they and what did they do?


The origins of the Goth’s are unknown but it well documented that they were a Nomadic civilisation that flourished through the Middle Ages. Though there is no exact understanding of where they originated, like many ancient civilisations, it is with reasonable agreement that the Goths were a Germanic people that have some ancestral claim to the Thervingi. A Gothic historian named Jordanes even stretched their ancestral home back to Scandza (Scandinavia) in which he writes that the Goth’s travelled the sea to the South Baltic Sea shores with only three ships led by their King, Berig.

After the Goths had landed they defeated the other Germanic tribes in the area before settling the land, this could link the Goths whose religion was a polytheistic religion to the Norse religion or a variation of it. This possible link can arguably be reinforced by Tacitus’ observation of the Goths in which he mentions their use of sturdy rounded shields and short swords. The religious practice before battle was also similar to the Norsemen in which they made their declarations and praise to their Gods, there is a little difference in which they played battle music in reverence to the Gods before battle. The similarities do not end there as many of their Gods, despite differences in name are similar to that of the Norse Gods with mentions in their beliefs to the Aesir, Tyr and Wodan-Odin; The Goths also shared runic writing and respect for sacred lands.

Though the similarities seem fairly obvious, it is highly debated that the evidence applied to historical studies to Gothic research pre-Roman involvement is almost exclusively based on the depiction provided by Jordanes whose works are suspect as it is the only work that is attributed to the early history and migration of the Goths and has no supporting literature of this particular movement. The Archaeologic evidence does largely support the claims of Jodanes but again this is argued that all the archaeological evidence being found is being classed as Gothic due to the claims of Jordanes, and not by the evidences own strengths.

What has been established in regards to the Goths is that even though their origins are still debated they did establish themselves firmly in the settling of much of the lands around the borders of the Roman provinces in particular they established themselves firmly around the Baltic Sea and Iberian Peninsula. The migration and settling of the Goths pushed many of the Germanic tribes further and further into the Roman lands. The combination of internal issues within the Roman Empire and the external issues applying more pressure to the Empire created increased instability of the Roman Empire.


Previous to the 3Rd Century the Goths and Romans had little to almost no interaction with each other, the Romans believed the Goths to be nothing but barbarians and they tended to do with most nomadic civilisations, considering them nothing more than animals with no ability to act rationally or intelligently. In 238 A.D. the Goths had begun raiding the Roman provinces actively and aggressively, there is no particular reason that can be defined as to why they began doing so, it is likely that they saw the opportunity due to the Roman’s internal issues and took it. During this time the Romans were in turmoil, so much so that the Empire itself was actually broken apart, this is known as the ‘Crisis of the Third Century’ by many, because of this turmoil the Roman had no power to contest the incursions into their lands by the Goths.

Places like Histia were rich targets for the roving raiders, even when the Romans did challenge the invaders that were defeated numerous time particularly in larger battles like the ‘Battle of Abritus’ and the ‘Battle of Adrianople’ much later but these Gothic victories allowed the Goths to establish a military strength that the Romans could not match. In the Battle of Abritus the Gothic victory was so decisive in that the Emperor Decius and his son were killed in 250 A.D. further weakening Rome.

With the continued momentum and victories of the Goths they managed to push all the way to the coastal provinces of Rome granting the Goths a naval arsenal to add to their already very strong ground forces. The acquisition of the naval powers enable the Goths to harass the seas with their piracy choking trade routes and establishing an incredible presence as a civilisation of great strength and a force to be reckoned with. For the next 20 years the Goths were at an advantage in any engagement they would have with the Roman military and held a position of power until 270 A.D. when the Roman Emperor Aurelian had defeated the Goths in a battle that had drove the Goths to Dacia and killed the Goth King Cannabaudes, who was likely the same king that brought the victory to the Goths 20 years earlier. After this defeat the tensions had decreased and Rome (Eastern Rome by this time) had gained some stability.

The following 100 years had seen some level of integration and separation between the Goths and the Romans. During this time many of the Goths had integrated into a Roman society and became Christianised but there were just as many Goths who had held on to their traditional beliefs and effectively became labelled as to different peoples by the Romans, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths . The Visigoths were given their name because of their unit name in the Roman Army Visi-Vesi, this was in relation to their original name of the Thervingi and the Ostrogoths were named in relation to the name Greuthingi. The Ostrogoths who held their traditions, implemented laws that ensured that any Goths who had followed Christian belief were killed but foreign Christians were left to be free.

In late 360 A.D. there was a Gothic civil war in which the Gothic King at the time Athanaric upheld the Gothic traditions, in so doing noted that there was some Goths who had already became Roman and Christian as the migration and integration had continued and even gained momentum during the subsequent peace between the Goths and Romans. During this time Rome had put a mission into plan to convert the Goths and Fritigern saw this as an opportunity for his people to enter Roman lands and settle, but for smooth a transition he would have to convert to Christianity and so he did. The King Athanaric was strongly against this and so with more and more Goths converting and joining the Romans tensions between the two peoples, Rome and the Goths had grown. The eventual growth of Christian Goths and Pagan Goths drew sharp lines between the two types of people and a civil war had broken out, with the Christian Goths gaining the aid of the Christian Romans under Emperor Valens. The conflict was short and sources point to the Goths gaining the advantage in the battle by drawing out the Romans from their lands into Goth lands where the Goths would engage in guerrilla warfare disadvantaging the Romans. It is largely believed that the conflict would have ended with another Gothic victory if it was not for the Huns cutting off food supplies of the Goth forces forcing the conflict to end.

During the year 376 A.D. the Huns had risen to some power, powerful enough to have forced the Goths towards Rome to seek aid and settlement in the Roman lands, this is the point in which the Goths had truly become split. The Visigoths (known at this time as the Thervingi) led by Fritigern and Alavivus; and the Ostrogoths (at this time known as the Greuthingi) led by Alatheus and Saphrax had approached the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens requesting permission to settle lands in Roman controlled areas which worked out beneficially for Valens. Valens at this time was in conflict with the Sasanians and had sent the bulk of his military force to fight them, so for Valens this was an opportunity to gain fresh new recruits and protect his lands against the threat of the Huns and Alans, but Valens showed favour to the Visigoths as they were willing to be Christianised and offered them very favourable terms. The Ostrogoths on the other hand were denied any access to the Roman lands and were held at the Danube by Roman forces.

The initial influx of new raw recruits was an enticing concept for Valens roughly, 90,000 new bodies but he did not take into account the cost of care and transport for the people and through careless deaths during transportation and increased starvation the Visigoths became unsettled, this only reached its climax when Valens denied food and provisions for the Visigoths, further to add to the mistreatment of the Goths Valens general Lupicinus would sell provisions to who he could before it would reach any Goth hands, the Visigoths became so desperate that many would trade their children for food. The increased tensions and possibility of rebellion forced Lupicinus to move the Visigoths south but to do this Lupicinus had to remove men from the Danube which opened a route for the Ostrogoths to enter the Roman lands, knowing this Fritigern had slowed the march of the Visigoths deliberately to allow the Ostrogoths to catch up.

The increased numbers of Goths became quite obvious and to prevent the forces of the Goths from uprising Lupicinus invited the leaders of both parties to dine with him, whilst all the Roman troops who were guarding them would continue to deny them food, to such an extent that they were denied to purchase food from the markets as well. The oppression of the Goths had boiled over and a number of Goths had fought against some Roman soldiers which ended in the loose of Roman soldiers, upon hearing of the incident Lupicinus declared that the leaders he had with him were held hostage and their people be killed this only escalated the tensions and the Goths were ready to march upon Lupinicus and his men to avoid this Fritigern suggested that he be released to his people as to avoid bloodshed and Lupicinus agreed. The bloodshed was avoided but Fritigern was unhappy with the humiliation and mistreatment of him and his people Fritigern decided to break from the Rome and broke the treaty, the Ostrogoths had joined in the rebellion alongside the Visigoths which led to the First Gothic War.

The decision to rebel against the Romans was initiated and the Goths and decided to retreat to Scythia, Lupinicus had followed them to quell the rebels but was defeated, with Lupinicus escaping but losing all his junior officers in the clash and lose of military standards. The victory of the Goths increased the morale of the Gothic army and had better equip them from the spoils of war and taking of Roman arms and armour. After their success the Goths returned to their raiding and pillaging ways in the countryside as more and more skirmishes were won by the Goths they decided to aim for the richer more important cities such as Adrianople. The battle of Adrianople had by far the largest effect as the armies of the Goths and the Romans would effectively cripple the Western Roman Empire to almost beyond repair.


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Movements of the Gothic Armies

The Battle of Adrianople was the decisive battle of the First Gothic War, The Romans had outnumbered the Goths by a fair margin but like many nomadic peoples the Huns had also been mercenaries and were brought in to aid the Goths against the Roman forces before the battle Fritigern had tried to negotiate peace with the Romans, only asking to have the lands they were promised but the Valens had refused the negotiation. Valens was awaiting reinforcements from his Nephew Gratian the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire) but due to having to deal with an invasion from Lentienses into Gaul which Gratian swiftly ended but just as he was to finally send the requested forces Gratian had received some intelligence in which there was a possible rebellion brewing which he again had to deal with, this pushed back Valens forces attack. While Valens was waiting for reinforcements to arrive Fritigern had once again attempted to agree peace which again was ignored. At this time Roman scouts had come back with intelligence on the Goths claiming that the Romans could, if they act claim victory with morale dropping and Valens patience running thin he called a council to discuss the next action, Valens was still unsure about attacking and so were some of his generals and decided to agree to the peace treaty but before an emissary could be dispatched some of the Roman units had attacked the Goths without orders.

The Roman scouts had failed to find or notice the Goth cavalry and Hun/Alan cavalry waiting for the chance to attack, so when the Romans had attacked the Goths, the Goth/Hun/Alan cavalry attacked from the Roman flank and led to the slaughter of the Roman forces who were so closely in formation that they could not react effectively against the cavalry. The Goths had engaged the Romans in battle which became a bloody slaughter. The Goths and the Huns spared no prisoners and pursued the retreating parties, in the battle Valens was killed, as was a majority of the Roman forces. The death of their Emperor left the Western Roman Empire in immense disarray until they could find another Emperor in Theodosius I.



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Formation of the Goths and Roman Forces

During the gap between the death of Valens and the ascension of Theodosius I, the Huns and Goths had a freedom to pillage and sack many of the Roman provinces, though the ascension of Theodosius I had returned some stability to what was left of the weakened Empire, the damage was irreversible and Western Rome remained weakened. Though it is hard to scale how much the Goths influenced the decline and eventual collapse of the Western Roman Empire, it has been well documented that the Ostrogoths and the Huns had become strong allies and eventually many Ostrogoths had become subject to the Huns. On the other side the Visigoths who eventually became integrated into the Empire and had become Roman citizens, there were many cases in which the once united Goths had fought on either side of conflict between the Huns and the Romans.

The decline of the Western Roman Empire was stalled for some time nearly a century due to the Visigoths being granted the Lands of Italy in which they would eventually found their own kingdom but the Empire despite paying very large tributes to the Huns were still being plagued by Hunnic raids in many of their provinces and this would continue until the Attila’s Demise in 453 A.D. which led to the end of the Huns granting to a stall in the decline of the Empire. But even after the end of the Hunnic Empire they still struggled with some barbarian raids from the Germanic tribes. The initial end of the Western Roman Empire can be argued that the attempt by the Western Roman Emperor Romulus Augustulus to oust the King of the Goths Odoacer which led to Odoacer deposing the Emperor.


The fall of the Western Roman Empire had substantial effects on the Roman powers as a whole and as such is argued that it had a great effect on the fall of the Roman Empire in its entirety as previously noted it is difficult to say how great an impact the Goths had on the fall of the Roman Empire but it would be wrong and inaccurate to say that it had little or no effect on it. The Goths as a peoples lasted into until the end of the Second Gothic War which was against the Byzantine Empire (535-554 A.D.) in which they had lost two kings Theoderic the Great and Totila. After they had lost their kings they were absorbed into the Lombardic Empire and those they were not retreated to the Black Sea and eventually absorbed into the Crimean Tatars.