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The Roman Commonwealth, from the time of Marius to that of Julian, had borne the brunt of the onset of various Teutonic peoples. The tribe which bore the distinctive name of Teutones, the Suevi, the Cherusci, the Nervii, the Marcomanni, and in later times the great confederacies which called themselves Free-men and All-men (Franks and Alamanni), had wrestled, often not ingloriously, with the Roman legions. But it was reserved for the Goths, whose fortunes we are now about to trace, to deal the first mortal blow at the Roman state, to be the first to stand in the Forum of Roma Invicta, and prove to an amazed world (themselves half-terrified by the greatness of their victory) that she who had stricken the nations with a continual stroke was now herself laid low. How little the Gothic nation comprehended that this was its mission; how gladly it would often have accepted the position of humble friend and client of the great World-Empire, through what strange vicissitudes of fortune, what hardships, what dangers of national extinction it was driven onwards to this predestined goal, will appear in the course of the following history...
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Copyright © 2015 by Edward Gibbon
Published by Perennial Press
Interior design by Pronoun
Distribution by Pronoun
The Roman Commonwealth
Geographical distribution of the Runes
Greeks and Goths : a study on the runes - Isaac Taylor
Handbook of the old-northern runic monuments of Scandinavia and England
Migration to the Euxine
The Scythian War, 247-270
Philip, Emperor, 244-249
Invasion of the Empire, 249
Bithynia invaded, 259
The Emperor Claudius II. Battle of Naissus
Recovery of the Empire
Civilization of the Visigoths
Hermanric the Ostrogoth
Bishop Ulfilas, 311-381
THE ROMAN COMMONWEALTH, FROM THE time of Marius to that of Julian, had borne the brunt of the onset of various Teutonic peoples. The tribe which bore the distinctive name of Teutones, the Suevi, the Cherusci, the Nervii, the Marcomanni, and in later times the great confederacies which called themselves Free-men and All-men (Franks and Alamanni), had wrestled, often not ingloriously, with the Roman legions. But it was reserved for the Goths, whose fortunes we are now about to trace, to deal the first mortal blow at the Roman state, to be the first to stand in the Forum of Roma Invicta, and prove to an amazed world (themselves half-terrified by the greatness of their victory) that she who had stricken the nations with a continual stroke was now herself laid low. How little the Gothic nation comprehended that this was its mission; how gladly it would often have accepted the position of humble friend and client of the great World-Empire, through what strange vicissitudes of fortune, what hardships, what dangers of national extinction it was driven onwards to this predestined goal, will appear in the course of the following history.
The Gothic nation, or rather cluster of nations, belonged to the great Aryan family of peoples, and to the Low-German branch of that family. From the remains of their language which have come down to us we can see that they were more nearly akin to the Frisians, to the Hollanders, and to our own Anglo-Saxon forefathers than to any other race of Modern Europe.
Ethnological science is at present engaged in discussing the question of the original seat and centre of the Aryan family, whether it should be placed—as almost all scholars a generation ago agreed in placing it—in the uplands of Central Asia, or whether it was situated in the North of Europe and in the neighbourhood of the Baltic Sea. It is not likely that any great value ought to be attached to the traditions of the Gothic people as to a matter so dim and remote as this: but as far as they go, they favor the later theory rather than the earlier, the Scandinavian rather than the Central-Asian hypothesis.
The information which Jordanes gives us as to the earliest home and first migration of the Goths is as follows:
“The island of Scanzia [peninsula of Norway and Sweden] lies in the Northern Ocean, opposite the mouths of the Vistula, in shape like a cedar-leaf. In this island, this manufactory of nations, dwelt the Goths with other tribes”. [Then follows a string of uncouth names, now for themost part forgotten, though the Swedes, the Fins, the Heruli are still familiar to us.]
“From this island the Goths, under their king Berig, first set forth in search of new homes. They had but three ships, and as one of these during their passage always lagged behind, they called her Gepanta, “the torpid one”. Their crew, who ever after showed themselves more sluggish and clumsy than their companions, when they became a nation bore a name derived from this quality, Gepidae, the Loiterers.
“However, all came safely to land at a place which was called ever after Gothi-scandza (South-East corner of the Baltic coast). From thence shore of the they moved forward to the dwellings of the Ulmerugi by the shores of the Ocean. These people they beat in pitched battle and drove from their habitations, and then, subduing their neighbors the Vandals, they employed them as instruments of their own subsequent victories”. So far Jordanes.
This migration from Sweden to East Prussia is doubted by many scholars, but, till it is actually disproved, let it at any rate stand as that which the Gothic nation in after days believed to be true concerning itself. An interesting passage in Pliny’s Natural History gives us a date before which the migration (if it ever took place) must have been made. According to this writer, Pytheas of Marseilles (the Marco Polo of Greek geography, who lived about the time of Alexander the Great) speaks of a people called Guttones, who lived by an estuary of the Ocean named Mentonomon, and who apparently traded in amber. Seeing that the name Guttones closely corresponds with that of Gut-thiuda (Gothic people), by which the Goths spoke of themselves, and seeing that amber is and has been for 2000 years the especial natural product by which the curving shores and deeply indented bays of the Gulf of Danzig have been made famous, it seems reasonable to infer that in these amber-selling Guttones of Pytheas we have the same people as the Goths of Jordanes, who must therefore have been settled on the South-East coast of the Baltic at least as early as 330 before Christ.
Pliny himself (writing about 70 AD) assigns to the Guttones a position not inconsistent with that which apparently was given to them by Pytheas; and Tacitus, the younger contemporary of Pliny, after describing the wide domain of the Ligii, who dwelt apparently between the Oder and the Vistula, says that “behind [that is Northwards of] the Ligii, the Gothones dwell, who are governed by their kings somewhat more stringently [than the other tribes of whom he has been speaking] but not so as to interfere with their freedom”. This valuable statement by Tacitus is all the information that we possess as to the internal condition of the Goths for many centuries.
But within the last few years the brilliant hypothesis of an English scholar as to the origin of the Runic mode of writing has given an especial importance to the settlement of the Goths at this South-East corner of the Baltic. If that hypothesis be correct—and it appears to find considerable acceptance with those philologers who are best qualified to decide upon its merits—we have not only a hint as to the social condition of the Goths and their kindred tribes, but we have a strong inducement to carry their settlement in East Prussia up to the sixth century before the Christian Era, that is some 200 years before the early date to which we were inclined to attribute it, by the authority of the navigator Pytheas.
IT IS WELL KNOWN THAT all over the North of Europe there exists a class of monuments, chiefly belonging to the first ten centuries of the Christian Era, which bear inscriptions in what for convenience sake we call the Runic character, the name Rûn, which signifies a mystery, having doubtless been assigned to them from some belief in their magical efficacy. Now these Runes are practically the exclusive possession of the Low German races, the term being used in that wide sense which was assigned to it at the beginning of the Chapter. Runic inscriptions were often carved by our Anglo-Saxon ancestors : they swarm in all Scandinavian lands : they were evidently in use among the Goths and the tribes most nearly allied to them. But along the course of the Rhine, upon the Northern slope of the Alps, by the upper waters of the Danube they are unknown. Franks and Alamanni and Bavarians seem never to have known the Runes. But where they were known, although many modifications were introduced in the course of centuries, there is a remarkable general agreement in all the early Runes, notwithstanding the wide geographical dispersion of the nations by whom they were used. To quote the words of Dr. Isaac Taylor, the author of the hypothesis which we are about to consider “This ancient and wide-spread Gothic alphabet is wonderfully firm, definite and uniform. To decipher the inscription on the golden torque of the Moesian Goths by the help of the alphabet stamped on the golden Bracteate from Swedish Gothland is as easy as it would be to read an Australian tombstone by the aid of a spelling-book from the United States. Distant colonies employ the common alphabet of the mother country”.
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