The Greutungen or Ostrogoths were subjugated by the Huns around 375. After their downfall, they initially became Roman foederati (allies), but conquered Italy in 488 under Theoderic, formally on behalf of Eastern Rome. After Theoderic”s death, the Ostrogothic Empire disintegrated around 550 under the onslaught of Emperor Justinian”s Eastern Roman troops.

The Tervingen (the later Visigoths) devastatingly defeated the Eastern Roman army under Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. They became Roman foederati in 382 and founded an empire in Gaul in the early 5th century, which was pushed into Hispania by the Franks. The Visigoth Empire was defeated by the Muslim Moors in 711.

The next emperor Trebonianus Gallus again conceded tribute to the Goths, but was overthrown by Aemilianus, who while still governor had defeated Kniva in 252 and as emperor stopped payment in 253. Again the Goths attacked Thrace and Moesia, but this time they were defeated. After another change of emperors, the Goths advanced as far as Thessalonica in 254. In the meantime, many Roman cities that had previously remained unfortified under the protection of the Pax Romana were heavily fortified, and the country suffered severe devastation.

The highest estimate assumes a Gothic sphere of influence from the Baltic to the Urals, which is considered exaggerated by most modern researchers, especially since it is not certain whether Ermanarich ruled over all Greutungen. In any case, the center of the Greutungian rule was in Ukraine and included other ethnic groups besides the Goths. As with the later Rus, long-distance trade is seen as the cause of this empire size. It was the furs from the Ice Sea area, gold from the Urals, wax and honey, a specialty of the Meščera, a Finno-Ugric name etymologically referring to bee prey, to the south. Ermanarich finally succeeded in defeating the Heruls who dominated the exit of the Volga-Don route, which only made sense from the point of view of trade. From the point of view of long-distance trade, the empire of Ermanarich was a forerunner of the Rus empire, which arose later with the same goal.

The Goths living under Hunnic rule apparently adapted to the new circumstances. Priskos reports that the Gothic language was an important lingua franca in Attila”s Hun empire. Among the Goths living under the Huns, there is also evidence of the custom of deforming skulls. Huns adopted Gothic names, just as, conversely, Goths bore Hunnic names. However, the relationship between Goths and Huns remained ambivalent, apparently some groups of Goths were able to escape Hunnic rule again and again or made an attempt to do so (cf. Radagaisus).

On behalf of Emperor Zeno, who wanted to get rid of the Goths from the border area of Eastern Rome, Theoderic moved to Italy in 488 with the majority of the Ostrogoths to expel Odoacer. Odoacer had deposed the last Western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, in 476 and henceforth ruled the country as patricius. The Goths invaded Italy in 489. Theoderic was to reconquer Rome and Italy for the empire until the emperor himself would come to the west. After a two-year siege of the residential city of Ravenna, Theoderic was able to defeat Odoacer at the Battle of Raven. Although both had already agreed on a joint government of Italy, Theoderic assassinated his counterpart in Ravenna on March 5, 493, and henceforth ruled Italy as princeps Romanus and “in place of the emperor.” Zeno had died in 491 and his successor Anastasius initially did not recognize Theoderic, who apparently had himself acclaimed once again as rex. In 497498 a provisional agreement was reached between Ravenna and Constantinople, whereby the toleration of Gothic rule from the emperor”s point of view probably referred only to Theoderic, not to any descendants. Whether Theoderich is henceforth rather to be seen as king of an Italic Ostrogothic empire or rather as a Western Roman head of government in the tradition of Ricimer is disputed in research.


Towards the end of the 3rd century, the Tervingen began to settle Dacia, which had been abandoned by the Romans for strategic reasons. Until shortly before the beginning of the Hun threat, the situation remained calm, except for minor occasional raids by the Tervingen. Constantine the Great had concluded a treaty with the Danubian Goths in 332, committing them to aid in arms. However, with the era of Athanaric, Roman-Teruvian disputes intensified from 365 onward because of poor treatment by the Roman administration. Athanaric, who had supported a Roman usurper, was decisively defeated by the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens in 369, but was still able to negotiate a favorable treaty. The Christianization of the Tervingen, which had begun in the meantime (Wulfila in particular should be emphasized here), led to persecutions of Christians and the formation of an opposition against Athanarich among the Fritigern, who had converted to Arianism.

Two thirds of the Roman army, Emperor Valens and almost all generals and staff officers were killed. The most powerful parts of the Roman army in the east were thus largely destroyed. The consequences of the battle were manifold: the Terwingian Visigoths became horsemen, Christianization was promoted, and Roman policy towards barbarians belonging to the empire had to be changed: from now on they were integrated and economic, political and legal measures were taken accordingly. That Adrianople was the beginning of the end of the empire, as sometimes assumed in older research, is now strongly doubted. However, there was a subsequent reorientation of Roman foreign policy, which now had to rely less than before on preventive strikes and more on diplomacy and tribute. The reason was an acute shortage of soldiers, which promoted the barbarization of the army.

In October 382, a treaty was signed between the Visigoths and the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, who had ruled the East since 379 as co-emperor of Gratian. According to this agreement, the Visigoths were settled as federates between the Danube and the Balkan Mountains, received land free of tax (which, however, remained Roman territory) and yearly salaries, but had to serve as soldiers in return. In addition, a marriage prohibition between Romans and Visigoths was issued. This treaty set in motion a development that ultimately led to the Visigoths becoming a “state within the state”, although this development had not been foreseeable in its full scope beforehand – especially since Theodosius had solved the Gothic problem at least for the time being and now had a powerful army at his disposal again, in which the Visigoths were integrated. All in all, this “Gothic treaty” did not deviate significantly from Roman treaty practice. It was rather the later development that made the impact of the foedus openly apparent. The exact content and significance of the Gothic treaty of 382 are disputed due to the poor state of the sources.

Over the next decades, there were repeated clashes between Romans and Visigoths, as well as between Romans and various other Germanic tribes, and finally the increasingly massive Hun threat. In 451 the battle took place on the Catalaunian Fields. There, the Huns, Gepids, various other Germanic tribes and Ostrogoths faced each other on one side, and Romans, Gauls, likewise various Germanic tribes and Visigoths on the other. The battle ended in a draw, but the nimbus of Attila”s invincibility was gone. According to legend, the then king of the Visigoths, Theoderid, died as a result of a spear thrown by the Ostrogoth Andagis.

After Theoderic”s death, the Visigoths became independent again in 526, and Toledo became their new residence. In 531, they again suffered a severe defeat at the hands of the Franks and lost all remaining Gallic territories except for Septimania. Only King Leovigild, after a prolonged period of turmoil, succeeded in consolidating the empire from the late 560s onward, gradually bringing the Iberian Peninsula almost entirely under Visigothic control. He subdued the Cantabrians and the Suebi in the northwest and also pushed back the Eastern Romans who, under Justinian, had been conquering territories in the south around Córdoba and Carthago Nova since 552. However, the last imperial fortresses in Spain did not capitulate until the 620s.

As early as the 3rd century, the Goths came into contact with Christianity, since among the captives they took during their raids on Roman territory were Christians who attempted conversion among the Goths. The declared enemy of Rome Athanaric, who was the elected spokesman of the Visigothic petty kings as judge (Latin iudex) until 375, persecuted the Gothic Christians in the name of the Gothic deities before 346 and 369-372.


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