Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Ostrogoths in Italy: Part 1 of 2


I believe that the heart and soul of the North Italian cultures stem from the Etruscans and early Italic tribes. The Lombard flag merely symbolizes what was a unified region. The Northern League stresses the Celtic past, pointing out that they had opposed Rome. This is mainly a way of symbolizing the opposition to the modern Roman government. Comunità Odinista stresses our Lombardic past, as the Lombards had practiced Odinism, at least at some point. It's easy to forget that the entire Italian peninsula (the mainland) was part of the Ostrogothic Kingdom, prior to the Lombard invasion.

I wanted to at least give an introduction to the Ostrogoths here, which we can build on later, and I will probably be bouncing all over the place. I have begun reading the book 'The History of the Lombards', and at the beginning, the author Paul the Deacon (a Lombard) points out the tremendous violence of the Germanic nations, and how Italy felt their wrath for centuries. I don't think we should deny that fact, despite what might be a fascination with the barbarians who invaded our ancestral homeland, and partly "became us."

Rather than enter a large amount of text regarding the Goths, who were all over, I will try to use links and look at the bigger picture first, then focus on how they affected Italy. The links will provide further reading, as this history is complex. The Ostrogoths were a branch of the Goths. The Goths were a large Germanic tribe which had settled in Eastern Europe. Like the Lombards, they were Arian Christians by the time they had invaded Italy and the Balkans. Arian Christianity was not Roman Christianity, which is why the early Roman church worked so hard to stamp them out. Centuries later, Queen Theodelinda peacefully brought the region under the Roman church.

The Goths were thought to have originated from "the Gotlanders" in Scandinavia. Gotland Island is a Scandinavian island, which seems to have given rise to a people who later became important on the Scandinavian mainland (Gotlandia, Götaland) and later migrated south. They had a very distinct culture which can be traced throughout their later migrations. Earlier I think I had mentioned that "the Gotts" (Gots, Goti, Guti, Gutar, Gotar, Göta, etc.) were perhaps a branch of the Lombards, but more than likely they were Goths.

Sometime around the 3rd century, the Goths were branching out and making their presence known. They settled near the Danube River, which is were the Lombards settled later, in modern Hungary. The Huns, a large and extremely barbaric central Asian tribe, began to move into the area. They seem to have pushed the Goths southward.

At some point the Goths branched into two main tribes: The Ostrogoths (Eastern Goths) and the Visigoths (Western Goths). The Visigoths migrated southwestward and by 475 had come to dominate almost all of the Iberian peninsula. The Visigoth Kingdom lasted until 711. Along with the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain, the Ostrogoths invaded Italy and the Balkans, where they established their own Kingdom. They ruled the entire area from 488 to 553. Both tribes had partaken in the earlier sacking of Rome.

Wikipedia states that after the two kingdoms were established: "The Goths were briefly reunited under one crown in the early sixth century under Theodoric the Great...." We will go more into Theodoric the Great later.

Backing up a little, it is interesting to me how a small region can affect the world. Gotland Island looks insignificant on a map, yet it was the springboard for a cultural movement that some scholars call the "Gothicismus." Wikipedia states: "Gothicismus, Gothism, or Gothicism (Swedish: Göticism) is the name given to what is considered to have been a cultural movement in Sweden.". Wikipedia goes on to state: During the period ca 600 BC–ca 300 BC the warm and dry climate of southern Scandinavia deteriorated considerably, which not only dramatically changed the flora, but forced people to change their way of living and to leave settlements. The Goths are believed to have crossed the Baltic Sea sometime between the end of this period, ca 300 BC, and 100.

The "Gutasaga" is a Norse saga or history, written in the 13th century, of Gotland and Gothicismus, before it's Christianization. It appears that it was based on the oral tradition or storytelling. It continues with the migration and/or invasions of the Goths southward. The Gutasaga reads "Over a long time, the people descended from these three multiplied so much that the land couldn't support them all. Then they draw lots, and every third person was picked to leave, and they could keep everything they owned and take it with them, except for their land. ... they went up the river Dvina, up through Russia. They went so far that they came to the land of the Greeks. ... they settled there, and live there still, and still have something of our language."

Wikipedia states about the Gutasaga: "That the Goths should have gone "to the land of the Greeks" is consistent with their first appearance in classical sources: Eusebius of Caesarea reported that they devastated "Macedonia, Greece, the Pontus, and Asia" in 263. The emigration would have taken place in the 1st century AD, and loose contact with their homeland would have been maintained for another two centuries, the comment that the emigrant's language "still has something" in common shows awareness of dialectal separation. The events would have needed to be transmitted orally for almost a millennium before the text was written down." "Asia" would have been modern Turkey.

Lastly, Gothic writing and language are other subjects unto itself, which we won't have time to focus on now.


We've already mentioned the Ostrogoths, which was the eastern branch of the Goths. As stated, the Goths had been a single nation until the 3rd century, when they split into two main branches (there were other smaller offshoots). From Wikipedia: "This so-called "split" or, more appropriately, resettlement of western tribes into the Roman province of Dacia was a natural result of population saturation of the area north of the Black Sea. The Goths there established a vast and powerful kingdom, during the 3rd and 4th centuries, between the Danube and the Dniepr in what is now Romania, Moldavia and western Ukraine (see Chernyakhov culture; Gothic runic inscriptions). This was a multi-tribal state ruled by a Gothic elite...." They seem to have migrated from the Roman region of Pannonia (modern Hungary) to the Balkans, where they settled for a good while. They had battled with the Romans, the Huns, and later the Eastern Roman Empire for centuries, off and on between truces and treaties.

Wikipedia briefly sums up the Ostrogoths: "The Ostrogoths (Latin: Ostrogothi or Austrogothi) were a branch of the Goths, an East Germanic tribe that played a major role in the political events of the late Roman Empire. The other branch was the Visigoths. The Ostrogoths established a relatively short-lived successor state of Rome in Italy and the Pannonia, even briefly incorporating most of Hispania and southern Gaul. They reached their zenith under their Romanised king Theodoric the Great, who patronised such late Roman figures as Boethius and Cassiodorus, in the first quarter of the sixth century. By mid-century, however, they had been conquered by Rome in the Gothic War (535–554), a war with devastating consequences for Italy."

Gothic influence was already widespread and remarkable since their rise in Gotland Island centuries before. When the Huns migrated into Europe, it seemed to begin a whole new chapter in Gothic history. I know I'm all over the place here, but this history is hard to look at only in terms of Chronology, as it affected so many other cultures along the way. Another history/fable was written in the 'Hlöðskviða' or otherwise known as 'The Battle of the Goths and Huns.'

The part of specifically Ostrogothic history which affects Italy can follow some chronological order here as follows. From Wikipedia:

"Hunnic invasions

The rise of the Huns around 370 overwhelmed the Gothic kingdoms. Many of the Goths migrated into Roman territory in the Balkans, while others remained north of the Danube under Hunnic rule. They became one of the many Hunnic vassals fighting in Europe, as in the Battle of Chalons in 451. Several uprisings against the Huns were suppressed. The collapse of Hunnic power in the 450s led to further violent upheaval in the lands north of the Danube, during which most of the Goths resident in the area migrated to the Balkans. It was this group that became known as the Ostrogoths.

Gothic was still spoken sporadically in Crimea as late as the 16th century: the Crimean Gothic language.

Post-Hunnic movements

Their recorded history begins with their independence from the remains of the Hunnic Empire following the death of Attila the Hun in 453. Allied with the former vassal and rival, the Gepids and the Ostrogoths led by Theodemir broke the Hunnic power of Attila's sons in the Battle of Nedao in 454.

The Ostrogoths now entered into relations with the Empire, and were settled on lands in Pannonia. During the greater part of the latter half of the 5th century, the East Goths played in south-eastern Europe nearly the same part that the West Goths played in the century before. They were seen going to and fro, in every conceivable relation of friendship and enmity with the Eastern Roman power, until, just as the West Goths had done before them, they passed from the East to the West.

Kingdom in Italy

The greatest of all Ostrogothic rulers, the future Theodoric the Great (whose name means "leader of the people") of Ostrogothic Kingdom, was born to Theodemir in or about 454, soon after the Battle of Nedao. His childhood was spent at Constantinople as a diplomatic hostage, where he was carefully educated. The early part of his life was taken up with various disputes, intrigues and wars within the Byzantine empire, in which he had as his rival Theodoric Strabo, a distant relative of Theodoric the Great and son of Triarius. This older but lesser Theodoric seems to have been the chief, not the king, of that branch of the Ostrogoths which had settled within the Empire at an earlier time. Theodoric the Great, as he is sometimes distinguished, was sometimes the friend, sometimes the enemy, of the Empire. In the former case he was clothed with various Roman titles and offices, as patrician and consul; but in all cases alike he remained the national Ostrogothic king. Theodoric is also known for his attainment of support from the Catholic church, which he gained by appeasing the pope in 520. During his reign, Theodoric, who was Arian, allowed “freedom of religion” which had not been done before. However, he did try to appease the pope and tried to keep his allies with the church strong. He saw the pope as an authority not only in the church but also over Rome.

Theodoric sought to revive Roman culture and government and in doing so, profit the Italian people. It was in both characters together that he set out in 488, by commission from the Byzantine emperor Zeno, to recover Italy from Odoacer. By 493 Ravenna was taken, where Theodoric would set up his capital. It was also at this time that Odoacer was killed by Theodoric's own hand. Ostrogothic power was fully established over Italy, Sicily, Dalmatia and the lands to the north of Italy. In this war the Ostrogoths and Visigoths began again to unite, if we may accept the witness of one writer that Theodoric was helped by Visigothic auxiliaries. The two branches of the nation were soon brought much more closely together; after he was forced to become regent of the Visigothic kingdom of Toulouse, the power of Theodoric was practically extended over a large part of Gaul and over nearly the whole of the Iberian peninsula. Theodoric also attempted to forge an alliance with the Frankish and Burgundian kingdoms by means of a series of diplomatic marriages. This strengthening of power eventually led the Byzantine emperor to fear that Theodoric would become too strong, and motivated his subsequent alliance with the Frankish king, Clovis I, to counter and ultimately overthrow the Ostrogoths.

A time of confusion followed the death of Alaric II, the son-in-law of Theodoric, at the Battle of Vouillé. The Ostrogothic king stepped in as the guardian of his grandson Amalaric, and preserved for him all his Iberian and a fragment of his Gaul dominion. Toulouse passed to the Franks but the Goth kept Narbonne and its district and Septimania, which was the last part of Gaul held by the Goths and kept the name of Gothia for many ages. While Theodoric lived, the Visigothic kingdom was practically united to his own dominion. He seems also to have claimed a kind of protectorate over the Germanic powers generally, and indeed to have practically exercised it, except in the case of the Franks.

The Ostrogothic dominion was now again as great in extent as and far more splendid than it could have been in the time of Hermanaric; however it was now of a wholly different character. The dominion of Theodoric was not a barbarian but a civilized power. His twofold position ran through everything. He was at once national king of the Goths, and successor, though without any imperial titles, of the West Roman emperors. The two nations, differing in manners, language and religion, lived side by side on the soil of Italy; each was ruled according to its own law, by the prince who was, in his two separate characters, the common sovereign of both. It is believed that between 200,000 to 250,000 Ostrogoths settled in Italy but these are guesses and the numbers may have been much lower or higher.

The picture of Theodoric's rule is drawn for us in the state papers drawn up, in his name and in the names of his successors, by his Roman minister Cassiodorus. The Goths seem to have been thick on the ground in northern Italy; in the south they formed little more than garrisons. In Theodoric's theory the Goth was the armed protector of the peaceful Roman; the Gothic king had the toil of government, while the Roman consul had the honour. All the forms of the Roman administration went on, and the Roman policy and culture had great influence on the Goths themselves. The rule of the prince over distinct nations in the same land was necessarily despotic; the old Germanic freedom was necessarily lost. Such a system needed a Theodoric to carry it on. It broke in pieces after his death."

The long war with Rome was a big part of the Ostrogothic Kingdom's history, but too long and complex to go into detail here. The links will provide much further reading. Also, we need to find the books on this kingdom for reference and further study.

Finally, there is some text regarding Ostrogothic culture, but it doesn't go into any read detail in which we can get a good idea of the traditions, architecture, mannerisms, or works of art. Gothic architecture was distinct, and they did create some complex and sightly artwork, which is something else we need to look at in the future. Like the Lombards later, the Ostrogothic culture becomes ours at the end of the day.

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