Getians, Scythians, and Goths: Jordanes on their supposed origins and achievements (mid-sixth century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Getians, Scythians, and Goths: Jordanes on their supposed origins and achievements (mid-sixth century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 21, 2024,

Ancient author: Cassiodorus and others in Jordanes, The Origin and Deeds of the Getians (link to Latin; link).

Comments: The person known as Jordanes was himself a Goth, which makes his extensive use of Cassiodorus (another Goth), Priscus (on Huns), and other sources (including Strabo, Josephos, Dio of Prusa, and Tacitus) a particularly fascinating dive into ethnographic thinking from a “barbarian” or non-dominant position in the mid-sixth century CE (in the time of emperor Justinian, written ca. 551 CE). As the extensive selections presented below demonstrate, Jordanes’ work attempts to show the importance of this people that was usually considered among the “barbarians.”  Jordanes does so by various means. For one thing, he traces the origins of this “most valiant descent group” back two thousand and thirty years from his own time, placing Gothic origins in the mid-second millenium in a northern “island” of Scandza, which is likely meant to be what is now known as Scandinavia.

Outlining migrations from the north, Jordanes then has the strategy of claiming well-known and sometimes respected “barbarian” peoples (at least for military achievements) around the Black Sea area under the banner of “Goths.”  Principally, this means taking the similarly sounding “Getians” (Getai) – often associated with Dacians or Thracians – west of the Black Sea (in what is now Romania and Bulgaria) as early Goths and appropriating their history, reputation (at least the positive sides of it), and accomplishments. Furthermore, both Scythians and their female counterparts, the Amazons, north and east of the Black Sea (in what is now Ukraine and southern Russia) can likewise be enveloped by the “Goths” as they make their migrations around the area.

To achieve his aim, Jordanes makes use of a variety of ethnographic sources on these peoples now described as in some sense “Goths.” Dio of Prusa’s now lost Getian Matters (Getica) – on which go to this link – is among the more specific ethnographic works that may have informed Cassiodorus and Jordanes. Starting out with a united people of the Getians / Goths, as Jordanes gets to the third century CE he divides the Goths into the Eastern Goths (Ostrogoths) and the western Goths (Visigoths).

While Jordanes will sometimes admit that his own people, the Goths, had some rather “barbarous” practices at times, his emphasis is on their ongoing strength and survival (withstanding Egyptians, Persians, Romans, and Huns) and on their progress towards civilization. And so, for instance, Jordanes has the ancestors of the Goths withstanding the legendary Egyptian pharaoh, Sesostris / Senwosret, a symbol of conquest and civilization (on which see Herodotos’ account of this composite pharaoh at this link, Diodoros’ at this link, and Trogus’ at this link). It is only the current Roman emperor, Justinian, who ultimately defeats and incorporates the Goths within a Christian empire.

Regarding contributions of the Goths to civilization, Jordanes also develops the notion of wise barbarians in a particular way, using the character of the priest and leader Dicineus as his starting point. The overall result is a narrative that firmly establishes the Goths among the oldest peoples to survive to his own day and as important contributors to the advancement of civilization.

In the process, Jordanes also provides many descriptions or characterizations of numerous peoples (too many to name here) throughout this two thousand year span. Yet his most negative statements and stereotypes are clearly reserved for the “savage” Huns in particular, who had been key rivals around the Black Sea area in the preceding century.

Further reading: A. Gillett, “The Mirror of Jordanes: Concepts of the Barbarian, Then and Now,” in A Companion to Late Antiquity (London: Wiley Blackwell, 2009), 392–408 (link).



(1) Though it had been my wish to glide in my little boat by the shore of a peaceful coast and, as a certain writer says, to gather little fishes from the pools of the ancients, you, brother Castalius, call on me to set my sails toward the deep. You urge me to leave the little work I have in hand, that is, the abbreviation of the Chronicles, and to condense in my own style in this small book the twelve volumes of the Senator [Cassiodorus] on the origin and achievements of the Getians (Getae) from the old days until today, descending through the generations of the kings. (2) This is truly a hard command and imposed by one who seems unwilling to realize the burden of the task. Nor do you note this, that my utterance is too slight to fill so magnificent a trumpet of speech as his [Cassiodorus]. But above every burden is the fact that I have no access to his books that I may follow his thought. Still – I’m not lying – I have previously read the books a second time by his steward’s loan for a three days’ reading. I do not recall the wording but the sense and I think I retain the entirety of the deeds. (3) To this I have added fitting matters from some Greek and Latin histories. I have also put in an introduction and a conclusion, and have inserted many things of my own authorship. So do not reproach me but receive and read with gladness what you have asked me to write. If anything is insufficiently expressed and you remember it, act like a neighbour to our descent group (gens) and make additions to the work, praying for me, dearest brother. The Lord be with you. Amen.

[Geographical limits of the inhabited world and the settings of the peoples]

1 (4) Our ancestors, as Orosius [Paulus Orosius, died ca. 420 CE, associated with the Suebian people] relates, were of the opinion that the circle of the whole world was surrounded by the belt of Ocean on three sides. Its three parts they called Asia, Europe and Africa. Concerning this threefold division of the earth’s extent there are almost innumerable writers who not only explain the situations of cities and places, but also measure out the number of miles and paces to give more clearness. Moreover they locate the islands interspersed amid the waves, both the greater and also the lesser islands, called Kyklades or Sporades [i.e. Greek islands in the Aegean], as situated in the vast flood of the great sea. (5) But not only has no one attempted to describe the impassable furthest bounds of Ocean, but no one has been able to reach them because of seaweed and the failing of the winds. It is plainly inaccessible and is unknown to any save to him [i.e. God] who made it. (6) But the nearer border of this sea, which we call the circle of the world, surrounds its coasts like a wreath. This has become clearly known to men of inquiring mind, even to those who wanted to write about it. For not only is the coast itself inhabited, but certain islands off in the sea are habitable.

[Eastern islands near India]

To the east in the Indian ocean there are the islands of Hippodes, Iamnesia, Solis Perusta (which though not habitable, is still of great length and width), as well as Taprobane [perhaps Sri Lanka is in mind], a fair island where there are towns or estates and ten strongly fortified cities. But there is yet another, the lovely Silefantina and Theros as well. (7) These, though not clearly described by any writer, are nevertheless well filled with inhabitants.

[Western islands near Spain]

This same Ocean has in its western region certain islands known to almost everyone by reason of the great number of those that journey back and forth. And there are two not far from the neighbourhood of the Strait of Gades, one the Blessed Isle and another called the Fortunate. Although some reckon as islands of Ocean the twin promontories of Galicia and Lusitania, where are still to be seen the Temple of Herakles on one and Scipio’s monument on the other, yet since they are joined to the extremity of the country of the Gauls, they belong rather to the great land of Europe than to the islands of Ocean. (8) However, it has other islands deeper within its own tides, which are called the Baleares; and yet another, Mevania, besides the Orcades, thirty-three in number, though not all inhabited. (9) At the farthest bound of its western expanse it has another island named Thule, of which the Mantuan bard makes mention: “And farthest Thule will serve you.”

[Northern islands and Scandza]

The same mighty sea has also in its arctic region, that is in the north, a great island named Scandza [perhaps Scandinavia is in mind], from which my tale (by God’s grace) starts. For the descent group whose origin you ask to know about burst forth like a swarm of bees from the midst of this island and came into the land of Europe. But how or in what way we will explain below, if it’s the Lord’s will.

[Britannia island]

2 (10) But now let me speak as briefly as I can concerning the island of Britannia [modern England], which is situated in the bosom of Ocean between Spain, Gaul and Germany. Although Livy tells us that no one in former days sailed around it, because of its great size, many writers have still held various opinions about it. It was long unapproached by Roman armies, until Julius Caesar disclosed it by battles fought solely for glory. In the busy age which followed it became accessible to many through trade and by other means. Thus it revealed more clearly its position, which I will here explain as I have found it in Greek and Latin authors. (11) Most of them say it is like a triangle pointing between the north and west. Its widest angle faces the mouths of the Rhine river. Then the island shrinks in breadth and recedes until it ends in two other angles. Its long doubled side faces Gaul and Germany. Its greatest width is said to be over two thousand three hundred and ten stadium-lengths, and its length not more than seven thousand one hundred and thirty-two stadium-lengths. (12) In some parts it is uncultivated, in others there are wooded plains, and sometimes it rises into mountain peaks. The island is surrounded by a sluggish sea, which neither gives readily to the stroke of the oar nor runs high under the blasts of the wind. I suppose this is because other lands are so far removed from it as to cause no disturbance of the sea, which indeed is of greater width here than anywhere else. Moreover Strabo [link], a famous writer of the Greeks, relates that the island exhales such mists from its soil, soaked by the frequent inroads of Ocean, that the sun is covered throughout the whole of their disagreeable sort of day that passes as fair, and so is hidden from sight.

(13) Cornelius [Tacitus: link] also, the author of the Annals, says that in the farthest part of Britannia the night gets brighter and is very short. He also says that the island abounds in metals, is well supplied with grass and is more productive in all those things which feed animals rather than men. Moreover many large rivers flow through it, and the tides are borne back into them, rolling along precious stones and pearls. The Silurians (Silures) have dark features and are usually born with curly black hair, but the inhabitants of Caledonia have reddish hair and large loose-jointed bodies. They are like the Gauls or the Spaniards, since they are located opposite of each of them. (14) For this reason, some have supposed that from these lands the island received its inhabitants, alluring them by its nearness. All the people (populi) and their kings are alike, uncivilized (inculti). Yet Dio [probably Dio of Prusa, confused with Dio Cassius], a most celebrated chronicler, assures us of the fact that they have all been combined under the name of Caledonians and Maiatians (Maeatae). They live in huts, a shelter used in common with their flocks, and often the woods are their home. They paint their bodies with iron-red, whether by way of adornment or perhaps for some other reason. (15) They often wage war with one another, either because they desire power or to increase their possessions. They fight not only on horseback or on foot, but even with scythed two-horse chariots, which they commonly call essedae. Let it be enough to have said this much on the shape of the island of Britannia.

[Scandza island, likely modern Scandinavia]

3 (16) Let us now return to the site of the island of Scandza, which we left above. Claudius Ptolemy, an excellent describer of the world, has made mention of it in the second book of his work, saying: “There is a great island situated in the surge of the northern Ocean, Scandza by name, in the shape of a juniper leaf with bulging sides that taper down to a point at a long end.” Pomponius Mela also makes mention of it as situated in the Codan gulf of the sea, with Ocean lapping its shores. (17) This island lies in front of the river Vistula, which rises in the Sarmatian mountains and flows through its triple mouth into the northern Ocean in sight of Scandza, separating Germany and Scythia. The island has in its eastern part a vast lake in the bosom of the earth, from where the Vagus river springs from the bowels of the earth and flows surging into the Ocean. On the west it is surrounded by an immense sea. On the north it is bounded by the same vast unnavigable ocean, from which by means of a sort of projecting arm of land a bay is cut off and forms the German sea. (18) Here also there are said to be many small islands scattered around. If wolves cross over to these islands when the sea is frozen by reason of the great cold, they are said to lose their sight. So the land is not only inhospitable to men but cruel even to wild animals.

[Peoples of Scandza]

(19) Now on the island of Scandza of which I speak there live many and diverse peoples (nationes), though Ptolemy mentions the names of only seven of them. There the honey-making swarms of bees are nowhere to be found on account of how exceedingly cold it is. In the northern part of the island the descent group of the Adogitians (Adogiti) live, who are said to have continual light in midsummer for forty days and nights, and who likewise have no clear light in the winter season for the same number of days and nights. (20) By reason of this alternation of sorrow and joy they are like no other descent group in their sufferings and blessings. And why? Because during the longer days they see the sun returning to the east along the rim of the horizon, but on the shorter days it is not seen like this. The sun shows itself differently because it is passing through the southern signs, and whereas to us the sun seems to rise from below, it seems to go around them along the edge of the earth.

There also are other peoples. (21) There are the Screrefennians (Screrefennae), who do not seek grain for food but live on the meat of wild animals and birds’ eggs; for there are such multitudes of young game in the swamps as to provide for the natural increase of their kind and to afford satisfaction to the needs of the people.

But still another descent group lives there, the Suehans, who, like the Thuringians, have splendid horses. Here also are those who send through innumerable other descent groups the sappherine skins to trade for Roman use. They are a people famed for the dark beauty of their furs and, though living in poverty, are most richly clothed.

(22) Then comes a throng of various peoples: Theustians (Theustes), Vagoths (Vagoth), Bergians (Bergio), Hallins (Hallin), and Liothidians (Liothida). All their habitations are in one level and fertile region. For this reason, they are disturbed there by incursions by other descent groups. Behind these are the Ahelmilians (Ahelmil), Finnaithians (Finnaithae), Fervirians (Fervir) and Gauthigoths (Gauthigoth), a descent group of men bold and quick to fight. Then come the Mixians (Mixi), Evagreans (Evagre), and Otingisians (Otingis). All these live like wild animals in rocks hewn out like castles. (23) And there are beyond these the Ostrogoths, Raumaricians, Aeragnaricians, and the most gentle Finns (Finni), milder than all the inhabitants of Scandza. Like them are the Vinoviliths also. The Suetidians are of this stock and excel the rest in physical build. However, the Danians (Dani), who trace their origin to the same stock, drove from their homes the Herulians (Heruli), who claim preeminence among all the peoples of Scandza for their tallness. (24) Furthermore there are in the same neighbourhood the Grannians (Grannii), Augandzans (Augandzi), Eunixans (Eunixi), Taetelians (Taetel), Rugans (Rugi), Arochans (Arochi) and Ranians (Ranii), over whom Roduulf was king not many years ago. But he despised his own kingdom and fled to the embrace of Theodoric, king of the Goths, finding there what he desired. All these peoples surpassed the Germans in size and spirit, and fought with the cruelty of wild animals.

[United Goths, imagined to be in the middle of the second millenium]

4 (25) Now from this island of Scandza, as from a hive of descent groups (gentes) or a womb of peoples (nationes), the Goths are said to have come forth long ago under their king, Berig by name [ca. 1490 BCE in Jordanes’ or Cassiodorus’ imagination, on which see 60.313]. As soon as they disembarked from their ships and set foot on the land, they immediately gave their name to the place. And even today it is said to be called “Gothiscandza.” (26) Soon they moved from here to the abodes of the Ulmerugans (Ulmerugi), who then lived on the shores of Ocean, where they pitched camp, joined battle with them and drove them from their homes. Then they subdued their neighbours, the Vandals, and thus added to their victories.

[First migration of Goths to Scythia, imagined to be in the late 1300s BCE]

But when the number of the people increased greatly and Filimer son of Gadaric reigned as king (about the fifth after Berig), he decided that the army of the Goths with their families should move from that region. (27) In search of suitable homes and pleasant places they came to the land of Scythia, called “Oium” in their language. Here they were delighted with the great richness of the country, and it is said that when half the army had been brought over, the bridge whereby they had crossed the river fell in utter ruin, nor could anyone thereafter pass back and forth. For the place is said to be surrounded by quaking bogs and an encircling abyss, so that by this double obstacle nature has made it inaccessible. Even today one may hear in that neighbourhood the lowing of cattle and may find traces of men, if we are to believe the stories of travellers. However, we must take it for granted that they hear these things from far away.

(28) This part of the Goths, which is said to have crossed the river and entered with Filimer into the country of Oium, came into possession of the desired land, and there they soon came upon the descent group of the Spalans (Spali), joined battle with them and won the victory. From there, the victors hurried to the farthest part of Scythia, which is near the sea of Pontos [Black Sea]. For this is how the story is generally told in their early songs, in almost historic fashion. Ablabius [fourth-fifth century historian = FGrHist 708] also, a famous chronicler of the Gothic descent group, confirms this in his most trustworthy account. (29) Some of the ancient writers also agree with the tale. Among these we may mention Josephos [link], a most reliable chronicler, who everywhere follows the rule of truth and unravels from the beginning the origin of causes. However, why he has omitted the beginnings of the descent group of the Goths, of which I have spoken, I do not know. He barely mentions Magog of that stock, and says they were Scythians by descent group and were called so by name.

[Land of Scythia where the Goths migrated]

Before we enter on our history, we must describe the boundaries of this land, as it lies. 5 (30) Now Scythia borders on the land of Germany as far as the source of the river Ister [Danube] and the expanse of the Morsian swamp. It reaches even to the rivers Tyra, Danaster [both now referred to as the Dniester] and Vagosola [perhaps Boh], and the great Danaper [Dnieper], extending to the Taurus range – not the mountains in Asia but our own, that is, the Scythian Taurus – all the way to Maiotis lake [Sea of Azov]. Beyond Maiotis it spreads on the other side of the straits of Bosporos to the Kaukasos [Caucasus] mountains and the river Araxes. Then it bends back to the left behind the Kaspian [Caspian] sea, which comes from the north-eastern ocean in the most distant parts of Asia, and so is formed like a mushroom, at first narrow and then broad and round in shape. It extends as far as the Huns, Albanians and Serians [i.e. Silk-people, Chinese]. (31) This land, I say – namely, Scythia stretching far and wide – has on the east the Serians, a descent group that lived at the very beginning of their history on the shore of the Kaspian sea. On the west are the Germans and the river Vistula; on the arctic side, namely the north, it is surrounded by Ocean; on the south by Persis, Albania, Hiberia, Pontos and the farthest channel of the Ister, which is called the Danube all the way from mouth to source.

(32) But in that region where Scythia touches the Pontic coast it is dotted with towns that are somewhat famous: Borysthenes, Olbia, Kallipolis, Cherson, Theodosia, Kareon, Myrmekion and Trapezos. The wild Scythian descent groups allowed the Greeks to build these towns to afford them means of trade. In the midst of Scythia is the place that separates Asia and Europe, I mean the Rhipaian mountains, from which the mighty Tanais [Don] flows. This river enters lake Maiotis, a marsh having a circuit of one hundred and forty-four miles and never subsiding to a depth of less than eight fathoms.

[Peoples in the land]

(33) In the western portion of the land of Scythia there live, first of all, the descent group of the Gepidians (Gepidae), surrounded by great and famous rivers. For the Tisia [Tisza] river flows through it on the north and northwest, and on the southwest is the great Danube. On the east it is cut by the Flutausis, a swiftly eddying stream that sweeps whirling into the Ister’s waters. (34) Within these rivers lies Dacia, encircled by the lofty Alps as by a crown. Near their left ridge, which inclines toward the north, and beginning at the source of the Vistula, the populous people (natio) of the Venethans (Venethi) live, occupying a great expanse of land. Though their names are now dispersed amid various tribes (familia) and places, yet they are chiefly called Sclavenans (Sclaveni) and Antians (Antes). (35) The abode of the Sclavenans extends from the city of Noviodunum and the lake called Mursianus to the Danaster, and northward as far as the Vistula. They have swamps and forests for their cities. The Antians, who are the bravest of these peoples dwelling in the curve of the sea of Pontos, spread from the Danaster to the Danaprus, rivers that are many days’ journey apart. (36) But on the shore of Ocean, where the floods of the river Vistula empty from three mouths, the Vidivarians (Vidivarii) live, a people gathered out of various descent groups. Beyond them the Aeastans (Aesti), a subject descent group, likewise hold the shore of Ocean. To the south live the Acatziri, a very brave descent group ignorant of agriculture, who subsist on their flocks and by hunting. (37) Farther away and above the Pontic sea are the abodes of the Bulgarians (Bulgares), well known from the wrongs done to them by reason of our oppression. From this region the Huns, like a fruitful root of bravest descent groups, sprouted into two hordes of populations. Some of these are called Altaziagirans (Altziagiri), others Sabirans (Sabiri); and they have different dwelling places. The Altziagirans are near Cherson [modern Kherson, Ukraine], where the avaricious traders bring in the goods of Asia. In summer they range the plains, their broad domains, wherever the pasturage for their cattle invites them, and go in winter beyond the Sea of Pontos. Now the Hunugurans (Hunuguri) are known to us from the fact that they trade in marten skins. But they have been subjugated by their bolder neighbours.

[Second and third migrations of Goths to Moesia, Thrace, and Dacia and again to Scythia]

(38) We read that on their first migration the Goths lived in the land of Scythia near lake Maiotis. On the second migration they went to Moesia, Thrace and Dacia [i.e. Goths are here equated with Getians / Dacians], and after their third they lived again in Scythia, above the Pontic sea. Nor do we find anywhere in their written records legends which tell of their subjection to slavery in Britannia or in some other island, or of their redemption by a certain man at the cost of a single horse [i.e. claims by other writers]. Of course if anyone in our city says that the Goths had an origin different from that I have related, let him object. For myself, I prefer to believe what I have read, rather than put trust in old wives’ tales.

[Goths civilizational progress in various stages]

(39) To return, then, to my subject. The previously mentioned descent group of which I speak is known to have had Filimer as king while they remained in their first home in Scythia near lake Maiotis. In their second home, that is in the countries of Dacia, Thrace and Moesia, Zalmoxes reigned, whom many chroniclers mention as a man of remarkable learning in philosophy. Yet even before this they had a learned man Zeuta, and after him Dicineus. The third was Zalmoxes of whom I have made mention above. Nor did they lack teachers of wisdom. (40) So the Goths have always been wiser than other barbarians and were nearly like the Greeks, as Dio relates, who wrote their history and chronicles with a Greek pen. [Jordanes may be confusing Dio Cassius with Dio of Prusa, who wrote the now lost Getian Matters, on which go to this link]. He says that those of noble birth among them, from whom their kings and priests were appointed, were called first Tarabosteseians and then Pilleatans. Moreover so highly were the Getians praised that Mars, whom the fables of poets call the god of war, was reputed to have been born among them. Hence Virgil says: “Father Gradivus rules the Getian fields.”

(41) Now Mars has always been worshipped by the Goths with cruel rites, and captives were slain as his victims. They thought that he who is the lord of war should to be appeased by the shedding of human blood. To him they devoted the first share of the spoil, and in his honour arms stripped from the foe were suspended from trees. And they had more than all others a deep sense of obligation (religio), since the worship of this god seemed to be really bestowed upon their ancestor.

(42) In their third dwelling place, which was above the Pontic sea, they had now become more civilized and, as I have said before, were more learned. Then the people were divided under ruling families. The Visigoths served the family of the Balthans and the Ostrogoths served the renowned Amalans. (43) They were the first descent group of men to string the bow with cords, as Lucan, who is more of a historian than a poet, affirms: “They string Armenian bows with Getian cords.”

[Amazons also connected with Goths, imagining a setting of the 1300s BCE]

In earliest times they sang of the deeds of their ancestors in strains of song accompanied by the lyre, chanting of Eterpamara, Hanala, Fritigern, Vidigoia and others whose fame among them is great. Such heroes admiring antiquity scarce proclaims its own to be. (44) Then, as the story goes, Sesostris (Vesosis) waged a war disastrous to himself against the Scythians, whom ancient tradition asserts to have been the husbands of the Amazons. Concerning these female warriors Orosius speaks in convincing language. So we can clearly prove that Sesostris (Vesosis) then fought with the Goths, since we know surely that he waged war with the husbands of the Amazons. They lived at that time along a bend of Maiotis lake, from the river Borysthenes, which the natives call the Danaper, to the stream of the Tanais. . . . [omitted a digression on the Tanais river].

[Tanausis king of the Goths and Sesostris pharaoh of Egypt]

6 (47) This was the region where the Goths lived when Sesostris (Vesosis), king of the Egyptians, made war upon them. Their king at that time was Tanausis [imagined to be in the late 1300s and early 1200s BCE]. In a battle at the river Phasis [Rioni] (which is where the birds called pheasants come from, which are found in abundance at the banquets of the great all over the world) Tanausis, king of the Goths, met Sesostris (Vesosis), king of the Egyptians, and there inflicted a severe defeat upon him, pursuing him even to Egypt. Had he not been restrained by the waters of the impassable Nile and the fortifications which Sesostris (Vesosis) had long ago ordered to be made against the raids of the Ethiopians, he would have slain him in his own land. But finding he had no power to injure him there, he returned and conquered almost all Asia and made it subject and tributary to Sornus, king of the Medes, who was then his dear friend. At that time some of his victorious army, seeing that the subdued provinces were rich and fruitful, deserted their companies and of their own accord remained in various parts of Asia.

(48) From their name or descent group Pompeius Trogus says the stock of the Parthians had its origin [link to Trogus’ account]. So even today in the Scythian tongue they are called “Parthi,” that is, “Deserters.” And in consequence of their descent they are archers – almost alone among all the peoples of Asia – and are very valiant warriors. Now in regard to the name, though I have said they were called “Parthi” because they were deserters, some have traced the derivation of the word otherwise, saying that they were called Parthi because they fled from their kinsmen. Now when Tanausis, king of the Goths, was dead, his people worshipped him as one of their gods.

[Accomplishments of the Amazons, equated with Goths, imagined to take place in the 1200s BCE]

7 (49) After his death, while the army under his successors was engaged in an expedition in other parts, a neighbouring descent group attempted to carry off women of the Goths as plunder. But they made a brave resistance, as they had been taught to do by their husbands, and routed in disgrace the enemy who had come upon them. When they had won this victory, they were inspired with greater daring. Mutually encouraging each other, they took up arms and chose two of the bolder, Lampeto and Marpesia, to act as their leaders. (50) While they were in command, they cast lots both for the defense of their own country and the devastation of other lands. So Lampeto remained to guard their native land and Marpesia took a company of women and led this new army into Asia. After conquering various descent groups in war and making others their allies by treaties, she came to the Kaucasus [Caucasus] mountains. There she remained for some time and gave the place the name Rock of Marpesia, of which also Virgil makes mention: “Like a hard flint or the Marpesian cliff.” It was here Alexander the Great afterwards built gates and named them the Kaspian gates, which now the descent group of the Lazi guard as a Roman fortification. (51) Here, then, the Amazons remained for some time and were much strengthened. Then they departed and crossed the river Halys [Kızılırmak], which flows near the city of Gangra, and with equal success subdued Armenia, Syria, Cilicia, Galatia, Pisidia and all the places of Asia. Then they turned to Ionia and Aiolia, and made provinces of them after their surrender. Here they ruled for some time and even founded cities and camps bearing their name. At Ephesos also they built a very costly and beautiful temple for Diana [Artemis Ephesia], because of her delight in archery and the chase, arts to which they were themselves devoted. (52) Then these Scythian-born women, who had by such a chance gained control over the kingdoms of Asia, held them for almost a hundred years, and at last came back to their own kinsfolk in the Marpesian rocks I have mentioned above, namely the Kaukasos [Caucasus] mountains. . . . [omitted a digression on the Caucasus mountains].

8 (56) Fearing their descent group would fail, the Amazons sought marriage with neighbouring descent groups. They appointed a day for meeting once in every year, so that when they should return to the same place on that day in the following year each mother might give over to the father whatever male child she had borne, but should herself keep and train for warfare whatever children of the female sex were born. Or else, as some maintain, they exposed the males, destroying the life of the ill-fated child with a hate like that of a stepmother. Among them child-bearing was detested, though everywhere else it is desired. (57) The terror of their cruelty was increased by common rumour; for what hope, I ask, would there be for a captive, when it was considered wrong to spare even a son? Herakles, they say, fought against them and overcame Menalippe, yet more by guile than by valour. Theseus, moreover, took Hippolyte captive, and of her he begat Hippolytos. And in later times the Amazons had a queen named Penthesilea, famed in the tales of the Trojan war. These women are said to have kept their power even to the time of Alexander the Great.

[Achievements of men among the Goths: Telephos and after]

9 (58) But do not say “Why does a story which deals with the men of the Goths have so much to say of their women?” Hear, then, the tale of the famous and glorious valour of the men. Now Dio, the historian and diligent investigator of ancient times, who gave to his work the title Getian Matters (Getica) – and we have previously proved that the Getians were Goths, on the testimony of Paulus Orosius – this Dio, I say, makes mention of a later king of theirs named Telephos [Jordanes is thinking of Dio Cassius, but the author of Getian Matters was more likely Dio of Prusa, as stated in Philostratos, Lives of the Sophists 487]. Let no one say that this name is quite foreign to the Gothic tongue, and let no one who is ignorant object at the fact that the descent groups of men make use of many names, even as the Romans borrow from the Macedonians, the Greeks from the Romans, the Sarmatians from the Germans, and the Goths frequently from the Huns. (59) This Telephos, then, a son of Herakles by Auge, and the husband of a sister of Priam, was of towering stature and terrible strength. He matched his father’s valour by virtues of his own and also recalled the traits of Herakles by his likeness in appearance. Our ancestors called his kingdom Moesia. This province has on the east the mouths of the Danube, on the south Macedonia, on the west Histria and on the north the Danube. (60) Now this king we have mentioned carried on wars with the Greeks, and in their course he killed in battle Thesander, the leader of Greece. But while he was making a hostile attack upon Ajax and was pursuing Ulysses [Odysseus], his horse became entangled in some vines and fell. He himself was thrown and wounded in the thigh by a javelin of Achilles, so that for a long time he could not be healed. Yet, despite his wound, he drove the Greeks from his land. Now when Telephos died, his son Eurypylos succeeded to the throne, being a son of the sister of Priam, king of the Phrygians. For love of Kassandra he sought to take part in the Trojan war, that he might come to the help of her parents and his own father-in-law. But soon after his arrival he was killed.

[Persians / “Parthians” and Macedonians unable to overcome Goths / Getians]

10 (61) Then Cyrus, king of the Persians [reigning ca. 559-530 BCE], after a long interval of almost exactly six hundred and thirty years (as Pompeius Trogus relates), waged an unsuccessful war against Tomyris, Queen of the Getians. Elated by his victories in Asia, he strove to conquer the Getians, whose queen, as I have said, was Tomyris. Though she could have stopped the approach of Cyrus at the river Araxes, yet she permitted him to cross, preferring to overcome him in battle rather than to thwart him by advantage of position. And so she did. (62) As Cyrus approached, fortune at first so favoured the Parthians that they killed the son of Tomyris and most of the army. But when the battle was renewed, the Getians and their queen defeated, conquered and overwhelmed the Parthians and took rich plunder from them. There for the first time the descent group of the Goths saw silken tents. After achieving this victory and winning so much booty from her enemies, Queen Tomyris crossed over into that part of Moesia which is now called Lesser Scythia – a name borrowed from great Scythia – and built on the Moesian shore of Pontos the city of Tomis, named after herself.

(63) Afterwards Darius, king of the Persians [reigning ca. 522-486 BCE], the son of Hystaspes, demanded in marriage the daughter of Antyrus, king of the Goths, asking for her hand and at the same time making threats in case they did not fulfil his wish. The Goths spurned this alliance and brought his embassy to nothing. Inflamed with anger because his offer had been rejected, he led an army of seven hundred thousand armed men against them and sought to avenge his wounded feelings by inflicting a public injury. Crossing on boats covered with boards and joined like a bridge almost the whole way from Chalcedon to Byzantion, he started for Thrace and Moesia. Later he built a bridge over the Danube in a similar manner, but he was wearied by two brief months of effort and lost eight thousand armed men among the Tapae. Then, fearing the bridge over the Danube would be seized by his foes, he marched back to Thrace in swift retreat, believing the land of Moesia would not be safe for even a short sojourn there.

(64) After his death, his son Xerxes [reigning 518-465 BCE] planned to avenge his father’s wrongs and so proceeded to undertake a war against the Goths with seven hundred thousand of his own men and three hundred thousand armed auxiliaries, twelve hundred ships of war and three thousand transports. But he did not venture to try them in battle, being overawed by their unyielding animosity. So he returned with his force just as he had come, and without fighting a single battle.

(65) Then Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, made alliance with the Goths and took to wife Medopa, the daughter of king Gudila, so that he might render the kingdom of Macedon more secure by the help of this marriage. It was at this time, as the historian Dio relates, that Philip, suffering from need of money, determined to lead out his forces and sack Odessos, a city of Moesia, which was then subject to the Goths by reason of the neighbouring city of Tomis. At that point, those priests of the Goths that are called the “holy men” suddenly opened the gates of Odessos and came out to meet them. They bore harps and were clad in snowy robes, and chanted in suppliant strains to the gods of their fathers that they might be propitious and repel the Macedonians. When the Macedonians saw them coming with such confidence to meet them, they were astonished and, so to speak, the armed were terrified by the unarmed. Immediately they broke the line they had formed for battle and not only refrained from destroying the city, but even gave back those whom they had captured outside by right of war. Then they made a truce and returned to their own country.

(66) After a long time Sitalkes, a famous leader of the Goths [actually king of the Odrysians, ca. 431-424 BCE], remembering this treacherous attempt, gathered a hundred and fifty thousand men and made war upon the Athenians, fighting against Perdikkas, king of Macedon. This Perdikkas had been left by Alexander as his successor to rule Athens by hereditary right, when he drank his destruction at Babylon through the treachery of an attendant. The Goths [i.e. identified with the Thracian Odrysians] engaged in a great battle with him and proved themselves to be the stronger. So in return for the wrong which the Macedonians had long before committed in Moesia, the Goths overran Greece and destroyed the whole of Macedonia.

[Romans unable to overcome the Goths]

11 (67) Then when Burebista (Buruista) was king of the Goths [actually king of the Dacians / Getians, in the mid-first century BCE], Dicineus came to Gothia at the time when Sulla ruled the Romans. Burebista received Dicineus and gave him almost royal power. It was by his advice the Goths ravaged the lands of the Germans, which the Franks now possess. (68) Then came Caesar [dictator 49-44 BCE], the first of all the Romans to assume imperial power and to subdue almost the whole world, who conquered all kingdoms and even seized islands lying beyond our world, reposing in the bosom of Ocean. He made tributary to the Romans those that did not even know the Roman name by hearsay, and yet was unable to prevail against the Goths, despite his frequent attempts. Soon Gaius Tiberius reigned as third emperor of the Romans [14-37 CE], and yet the Goths continued in their kingdom unharmed.

[Dicineus’ contributions to the civilization of Goths – wise barbarian theme]

(69) Their safety, their advantage, their one hope lay in this, that whatever their counsellor Dicineus advised should by all means be done; and they judged it expedient that they should work hard for its accomplishment. And when he saw that their minds were obedient to him in all things and that they had natural ability, he taught them almost the whole of philosophy, for he was a skilled master of this subject. By teaching them ethics in this way he restrained their barbarous customs. By imparting a knowledge of physics he made them live naturally under laws of their own, which they possess in written form to this day and call belagines. He taught them logic and made them skilled in reasoning beyond all other descent groups. He showed them practical knowledge and so persuaded them to abound in good works.

By demonstrating theoretical knowledge he urged them to contemplate the twelve signs and the courses of the planets passing through them, and the whole of astronomy. He told them how the disc of the moon gains increase or suffers loss, and showed them how much the fiery globe of the sun exceeds in size our earthly planet. He explained the names of the three hundred and forty-six stars and told through what signs in the arching vault of the heavens they glide swiftly from their rising to their setting. (70) Think, I ask you, what pleasure it was for these brave men when for a short time they had leisure from warfare, to be instructed in the teachings of philosophy. You might have seen one scanning the position of the heavens and another investigating the nature of plants and bushes. Here stood one who studied the waxing and waning of the moon, while still another regarded the labours of the sun and observed how those bodies which were hastening to go toward the east are whirled around and brought back to the west by the rotation of the heavens. When they had learned the reason, they were at rest. (71) These and various other matters Dicineus taught the Goths in his wisdom and gained marvellous repute among them, so that he ruled not only the common men but their kings. He chose from among them those that were at that time of noblest birth and superior wisdom and taught them discourses about the gods, calling them to worship certain divinities and holy places. He gave the name of Pilleatians to the priests he ordained, I suppose because they offered sacrifice having their heads covered with tiaras, which we otherwise call “pillei.” (72) But he instructed them to call the rest of their descent group “Capillatians” (Capillati). This name the Goths accepted and prized highly, and they retain it to this day in their songs.

[Successors to Dicineus]

(73) After the death of Dicineus, they held Comosicus in almost equal honour, because he was not inferior in knowledge. By reason of his wisdom he was accounted their priest and king, and he judged the people with the greatest uprightness. 12 When he too had departed from human affairs, Coryllus ascended the throne as king of the Goths and for forty years ruled his people in Dacia. I mean ancient Dacia, which the descent group of the Gepidians (Gepidae) now possess. (74) This country lies across the Danube within sight of Moesia, and is surrounded by a crown of mountains. It has only two ways of access, one by way of the Boutae mountain pass and the other by the Tapae. This Gothia, which our ancestors called Dacia and now, as I have said, is called Gepidia, was then bounded on the east by the Roxolanians, on the west by the Iazygians, on the north by the Sarmatians and Basternians and on the south by the river Danube. The Iazygians are separated from the Roxolanians by the Aluta river only. . . [omitted digression on the Danube river].

[Goths’ continuing relations Romans from Domitian on]

13 (76) Now after a long time, in the reign of the emperor Domitian [81-96 CE], the Goths, through fear of his avarice, broke the truce they had long observed under other emperors. They laid waste the bank of the Danube, so long held by the Roman empire, and killed the soldiers and their generals. Oppius Sabinus was then in command of that province [Moesia], succeeding Agrippa, while Dorpaneus held command over the Goths. Then the Goths made war and conquered the Romans, cut off the head of Oppius Sabinus [ca. 86 CE], and invaded and boldly plundered many castles and cities belonging to the emperor. (77) In this plight of his countrymen Domitian hurried to Illyricum, bringing with him the troops of almost the entire empire. He sent Fuscus before him as his general with picked soldiers. Then joining boats together like a bridge, he made his soldiers cross the river Danube above the army of Dorpaneus. (78) But the Goths were on the alert. They took up arms and presently overwhelmed the Romans in the first encounter. They killed Fuscus, the commander, and plundered the soldiers’ camp of its treasure.

[“Ansis” or heroes among the Goths with outline of lineages]

Because of the great victory they had won in this region, afterwards they called their leaders (by whose good fortune they seemed to have conquered) not mere men, but demigods, that is “Ansis.” I will briefly run through their genealogy, telling the lineage of each and the beginning and the end of this line. Listen without complaining, reader, for I am speaking the truth. 14 (79) Now the first of these heroes, as they themselves relate in their legends, was Gapt, who begat Hulmul. And Hulmul begat Augis; and Augis begat him who was called Amal, from whom the name of the Amalians comes. This Amal begat Hisarnis. Hisarnis moreover begat Ostrogotha [third century CE], and Ostrogotha begat Hunuil, and Hunuil likewise begat Athal. Athal begat Achiulf and Oduulf. Now Achiulf begat Ansila and Ediulf, Vultuulf and Hermanaric. And Vultuulf begat Valaravans and Valaravans begat Vinitharius. Vinitharius moreover begat Vandalarius; (80) Vandalarius begat Thiudimer and Valamir and Vidimer; and Thiudimer begat Theodoric. Theodoric begat Amalasuentha; Amalasuentha bore Athalaric and Mathesuentha to her husband Eutharic, whose descent group was thus joined to hers in kinship. (81) For the aforesaid Hermanaric, the son of Achiulf, begat Hunimund, and Hunimund begat Thorismud. Now Thorismud begat Beremud, Beremud begat Veteric, and Veteric likewise begat Eutharic, who married Amalasuentha and begat Athalaric and Mathesuentha. Athalaric died in the years of his childhood, and Mathesuentha married Vitiges, to whom she bore no child. Both of them were taken together by Belisarius to Constantinople. When Vitiges passed from human affairs, Germanus the patrician, a cousin of the emperor Justinian, took Mathesuentha in marriage and made her a Patrician Ordinary. And of her he begat a son, also called Germanus. But upon the death of Germanus, she determined to remain a widow. Now how and in what way the kingdom of the Amalians was overthrown we shall keep to tell in its proper place, if the Lord helps us.

[Eastern and Western Goths from the third century CE]

(82) But let us now return to where we were when 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 [third century CE], 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. 15 (83) As already said, they crossed the Danube and lived a little while in Moesia and Thrace.

[Digression on Maximinus Thrax, the first “Gothic” Roman emperor]

From the remnant of these came Maximinus [Thrax], the emperor [reigning 235-238 CE] succeeding Alexander the son of Mama. For Symmachus relates it in this way in the fifth book of his history, saying that upon the death of Caesar Alexander, Maximinus was made emperor by the army. He was a man born in Thrace from humble parents, his father being a Goth named Micca and his mother a woman of the Alanians called Ababa. He reigned three years and lost both his empire and his life while making war on the Christians. (84) 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 asked the emperor in his native tongue to give him permission to wrestle with the trained soldiers for the prizes offered. (85) Severus marvelling much at his great size (for his height, it is said, was more than eight feet) instructed him to wrestle with the camp followers, in order that no injury might happen to his soldiers at the hands of this wild fellow. Then 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 going around in barbarian fashion and ordered a tribune to 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. (86) Then the emperor spurred on his horse to a slow trot and wheeled in many a circle here and there 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 a silver and gold necklace by Caesar. Then he was bidden to serve in the body guard of the emperor. (87) 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 [217-218 CE], 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. (88) 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 descent group 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 from where we digressed. . . . [omitted other third century developments and digressions].

[Getians’ relation to Gepidians]

17 (94) From this city, then, as we were saying, the Getians returned after a long siege to their own land, enriched by the ransom they had received. Now the descent group of the Gepidians was moved with envy when they saw them laden with plunder and so suddenly victorious everywhere, and made war on their kinsmen. Should you ask how the Getians and Gepidians are kinsmen, I can tell you in a few words. You surely remember that in the beginning I said the Goths went out from the bosom of the island of Scandza with Berig, their king, sailing in only three ships toward this shore of Ocean, namely to Gothiscandza. (95) 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 descent group their name, for in their language gepanta means slow. So it came to pass that gradually and by corruption the name “Gepidians” 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 Gepidians 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. (96) These Gepidians then felt envy while they lived 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 descent group of the Vividarians, since the Gepidians themselves have moved to better lands. The Vividarians are gathered from various descent groups into this one asylum, if I may call it so, and thus they form a people. . . . [omitted details regarding Gepidian kings and their activities, as well as details about other third century Roman emperors’ relations with Goths].

[Further military achievements of the Goths]

20 (107) 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 destroyed many populous cities and set fire to the renowned temple of Diana [Artemis] at Ephesos, which, as we said before, the Amazons built. Being driven from the neighbourhood of Bithynia, they destroyed Chalcedon, which Cornelius Avitus afterwards restored to some extent. Yet even today, though it is happily situated near the royal city, it still shows some trace of its ruin as a witness to posterity. (108) 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 Ilion 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 devastated Asia in this way, Thrace next felt their ferocity. For they went there and attacked Anchiali, a city at the foot of mount Haimos and not far from the sea. Sardanapalos, king of the Parthians, had built this city long ago between an inlet of the sea and the base of Haimos. (109) 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.

[Goths’ contributions to Roman success]

21 (110) 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.

(111) Now it had long been a hard matter for the Roman army to fight against any peoples 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 killed him with the sword of Constantine the victor. (112) 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 valour and noble birth.


22 (113) 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 descent group. Soon he sought to enlarge his country’s narrow bounds at the expense of the descent group of the Vandals and Visimar, their king. This Visimar was of the stock of the Asdingians, 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 lived in the land where the Gepidians now live, near the rivers Marisia, Miliare, Gilpil and the Grisia, which exceeds in size all previously mentioned. (114) They then had on the east the Goths, on the west the Marcomannians, on the north the Hermundulians 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. (115) When Geberich, the famous leader of the Goths, had conquered and spoiled the Vandals, he returned to his own place from where 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 there by Stilicho, master of the soldiers, ex-consul and patrician, and took possession of Gaul. Here they plundered their neighbours and had no settled place of abode.

[Achievements of Hermanaric, king of the Getians / Goths]

23 (116) Soon Geberich, king of the Goths, departed from human affairs and Hermanaric [reigning ca. 351-376 CE], noblest of the Amalians, 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 descent groups he conquered were the Golthescythians, Thiudians, Inaunxisians, Vasinabroncians, Merens, Mordens, Imniscarians, Rogasians, Tadzans, Athaulians, Navegoans, Bubegenians and Coldians. (117) But though famous for his conquest of so many descent groups, he gave himself no rest until he had killed some in battle and then reduced to his control the remainder of the descent group of the Herulians (Heruli), whose chief was Alaric.


Now the above mentioned descent group [Herulians], as the historian Ablabius tells us, lived near lake Maiotis [Sea of Azov] in swampy places which the Greeks call hele; hence they were named Helurians. They were a people of quick runners and, for that reason, were the more swollen with pride, (118) for there was at that time no descent group 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, they were still overthrown by the slowness and steadiness of the Goths. The lot of fortune brought it to pass that they, as well as the other descent groups, had to serve Hermanaric, king of the Getians.


(119) After the slaughter of the Herulians, Hermanaric also took arms against the Venethians. This people, though despised in war, was strong in numbers and tried to resist him. But a multitude of cowards is useless, 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 peoples, though off-shoots from one stock, have now three names, that is, Venethians, Antians and Sclavenians. 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. (120) This ruler also subdued by his wisdom and might the descent group of the Aestians, who live on the farthest shore of the German ocean, and ruled all the peoples of Scythia and Germany by his own prowess alone.

[Huns, negative stereotypes, and conquest of Scythia]

24 (121) But after a short space of time, as Orosius relates, the descent group of the Huns, fiercer than ferocity itself, flamed forth against the Goths. We learn from old traditions that their origin was as follows: Filimer, king of the Goths, son of Gadaric the Great, who was the fifth in succession to hold the rule of the Getians after their departure from the island of Scandza (and who, as we have said, entered the land of Scythia with his descent group) found among his people certain witches, whom he called in his native tongue Haliurunnae. Suspecting these women, he expelled them from the midst of his descent group and compelled them to wander in solitary exile far from his army. (122) There the unclean spirits, who noticed them as they wandered through the wilderness, had sex with them and begat this savage descent group, which lived at first in the swamps. This is a stunted, foul and puny descent group, scarcely human, and having no language save one which bore but slight resemblance to human speech. Such was the descent of the Huns who came to the country of the Goths.

(123) This cruel descent group, as Priscus the historian relates, settled on the farther bank of the Maiotic swamp. They were fond of hunting and had no skill in any other art. After they had grown to a people, they disturbed the peace of neighbouring descent groups by theft and plunder. At one time, while hunters of their descent group were as usual seeking for game on the farthest edge of Maiotis, they saw a doe unexpectedly appear to their sight and enter the swamp, acting as guide of the way; now advancing and again standing still. (124) The hunters followed and crossed on foot the Maeotic swamp, which they had supposed was impassable as the sea. Presently the unknown land of Scythia disclosed itself and the doe disappeared.

Now in my opinion the evil spirits, from whom the Huns are descended, did this from envy of the Scythians. (125) And the Huns, who had been wholly ignorant that there was another world beyond Maiotis, were now filled with admiration for the Scythian land. As they were quick of mind, they believed that this path, utterly unknown to any age of the past, had been divinely revealed to them. They returned to their descent group, told them what had happened, praised Scythia and persuaded the people to hurry there along the way they had found by the guidance of the doe. As many as they captured, when they thus entered Scythia for the first time, they sacrificed to Victory. The remainder they conquered and made subject to themselves. (126) Like a whirlwind of peoples they swept across the great swamp and at once fell upon the Alpidzurians, Alcildzurians, Itimarians, Tuncarsians and Boiscians, who bordered on that part of Scythia.

[Huns’ supposed physical features]

The Alanians also, who were their equals in battle, but unlike them in civilization, manners and appearance, they exhausted by their incessant attacks and subdued. (127) For by the terror of their features they inspired great fear in those whom perhaps they did not really surpass in war. They made their foes flee in horror because their dark aspect was fearful, and they had, if I may call it so, a sort of shapeless lump, not a head, with pin-holes rather than eyes. Their hardihood is evident in their wild appearance, and they are beings who are cruel to their children on the very day they are born. For they cut the cheeks of the males with a sword, so that before they receive the nourishment of milk they must learn to endure wounds. (128) So they grow old beardless and their young men are without beauty, because a face furrowed by the sword spoils by its scars the natural beauty of a beard. They are short in stature, quick in bodily movement, alert horsemen, broad shouldered, ready in the use of bow and arrow, and have firm-set necks which are ever erect in pride. Though they live in the form of men, they have the cruelty of wild animals.

[Huns conquer the eastern Goths]

(129) When the Getians beheld this active descent group that had invaded many peoples, they took fright and consulted with their king how they might escape from such a foe. Now although Hermanaric, king of the Goths, was the conqueror of many descent groups, as we have said above, yet while he was deliberating on this invasion of the Huns, the treacherous descent group of the Rosomonians, who at that time were among those who owed him their homage, took this chance to catch him unawares. For when the king had given orders that a certain woman of the descent group I have mentioned, Sunilda by name, should be bound to wild horses and torn apart by driving them at full speed in opposite directions (for he was roused to fury by her husband’s treachery to him), her brothers Sarus and Ammius came to avenge their sister’s death and plunged a sword into Hermanaric’s side. Enfeebled by this blow, he dragged out a miserable existence in bodily weakness. (130) Balamber, king of the Huns, took advantage of his ill health to move an army into the country of the Ostrogoths, from whom the Visigoths had already separated because of some dispute. Meanwhile Hermanaric, who was unable to endure either the pain of his wound or the inroads of the Huns, died full of days at the great age of one hundred and ten years. The fact of his death enabled the Huns to prevail over those Goths who, as we have said, lived in the East and were called Ostrogoths.

[1. Visigoths / western Goths]

[Adoption of Arian Christianity]

25 (131) The Visigoths, who were their other allies and inhabitants of the western country, were terrified as their kinsmen had been, and knew not how to plan for safety against the descent group of the Huns. After long deliberation by common consent they finally sent ambassadors into Romania to the emperor Valens [reigning in the eastern empire ca. 364-378 CE], brother of Valentinian, the elder emperor, to say that if he would give them part of Thrace or Moesia to keep, they would submit themselves to his laws and commands. That he might have greater confidence in them, they promised to become Christians, if he would give them teachers who spoke their language.

(132) When Valens learned this, he gladly and promptly granted what he had himself intended to ask. He received the Getians into the region of Moesia and placed them there as a wall of defense for his kingdom against other descent groups. Since at that time the emperor Valens, who was infected with the Arian falsehood, had closed all the churches of our [Nicene] party, he sent as preachers to them those who favoured his sect. They came and immediately filled a rude and ignorant people with the poison of their heresy. Thus the emperor Valens made the Visigoths Arians rather than Christians. (133) Moreover, from the love they bore them, they preached the gospel both to the Ostrogoths and to their kinsmen the Gepidians, teaching them to reverence this heresy, and they invited all people of their speech everywhere to attach themselves to this sect. They themselves as we have said, crossed the Danube and settled Dacia Ripensis, Moesia and Thrace by permission of the emperor. . . . [further details regarding Goths in relation to the emperors Valens, Gratian and Theodosius omitted].

[Decline in Goths’ relations with Roman emperors and the reign of king Alaric, with migration to Gaul and Spain]

29 (146) But after Theodosius, the lover of peace and of the Gothic descent group, had passed from human cares, his sons began to ruin both empires by their luxurious living and to deprive their allies, that is to say the Goths, of the customary gifts. The contempt of the Goths for the Romans soon increased, and for fear their valour would be destroyed by long peace, they appointed Alaric king over them [reigning ca. 395-410 CE, sacking Rome in 410 CE]. He was of a famous stock, and his nobility was second only to that of the Amalians, for he came from the family of the Balthians, who because of their daring valour had long ago received among their descent group the name Baltha, that is, the “Bold.” (147) Now when this Alaric was made king, he took counsel with his men and persuaded them to seek a kingdom by their own exertions rather than serve others in idleness. In the consulship of Stilicho and Aurelian he raised an army and entered Italy, which seemed to be bare of defenders, and came through Pannonia and Sirmium along the right side. Without meeting any resistance, he reached the bridge of the river Candidianus at the third milestone from the royal city of Ravenna. . . . [omitted digression on the city].

30 (152) But as I was saying, when the army of the Visigoths had come into the neighbourhood of this city, they sent an embassy to the emperor Honorius [reigning ca. 393-423 CE], who lived within. They said that if he would permit the Goths to settle peaceably in Italy, they would so live with the Roman people that men might believe them both to be of one descent group. But if not, whoever prevailed in war should drive out the other, and the victor should rule unmolested from then on. But the emperor Honorius feared to make either promise.

So he took counsel with his Senate and considered how he might drive them from the Italian borders. (153) He finally decided that Alaric and his descent group, if they were able to do so, should be allowed to seize for their own home the provinces farthest away, namely, Gaul and Spain. For at this time he had almost lost them, and moreover they had been devastated by the invasion of Gaiseric, king of the Vandals. The grant was confirmed by an imperial rescript. Consenting to the arrangement, the Goths set out for the country given them. . . . [omitted further details regarding Honorius, the death of Alaric, and Alaric’s successors].

[Attila and the Huns]

34 . . . (178) During this peace Attila [ca. 434-453 CE] was lord over all the Huns and almost the sole earthly ruler of all the descent groups of Scythia. This was a man marvellous for his glorious fame among all peoples. The historian Priscus, who was sent to him on an embassy by the younger Theodosius, says this among other things: “Crossing mighty rivers – namely, the Tisia, Tibisia, and Dricca – we came to the place where long ago Vidigoia, bravest of the Goths, perished by the guile of the Sarmatians. At no great distance from that place we arrived at the village where king Attila was dwelling. A village, I say, like a great city, in which we found wooden walls made of smooth-shining boards, whose joints so counterfeited solidity that the union of the boards could scarcely be distinguished by close scrutiny. (179) There you might see dining halls of large extent and porticoes planned with great beauty, while the courtyard was bounded by so vast a circuit that its very size showed it was the royal palace.” This was the home of Attila, the king of all the barbarian world. He preferred this as a dwelling to the cities he captured.

35 (180) Now this Attila was the son of Mundiuch, and his brothers were Octar and Ruas who are said to have ruled before Attila, though not over quite so many descent groups as he did. After their death he succeeded to the throne of the Huns, together with his brother Bleda. In order that he might first be equal to the expedition he was preparing, he sought to increase his strength by murder. Thus he proceeded from the destruction of his own kindred to the menace of all others. (181) But though he increased his power by this shameful means, yet by the balance of justice he received the hideous consequences of his own cruelty. Now when his brother Bleda, who ruled over a great part of the Huns, had been slain by his treachery, Attila united all the people under his own rule. Gathering also a host of the other descent groups which he then held under his sway, he sought to subdue the foremost peoples of the world: the Romans and the Visigoths.

(182) Attila’s army is said to have numbered five hundred thousand men. He was a man born into the world to shake the peoples, the scourge of all lands, who in some way terrified all humankind by the dreadful rumours sent around concerning him. He was haughty in his walk, rolling his eyes here and there, so that the power of his proud spirit appeared in the movement of his body. He was indeed a lover of war, yet restrained in action, mighty in counsel, gracious to suppliants and lenient to those who were once received into his protection. He was short of stature, with a broad chest and a large head; his eyes were small, his beard thin and sprinkled with gray; and he had a flat nose and a dark complexion, showing the evidences of his origin.

(183) And though his temper was such that he always had great self-confidence, yet his assurance was increased by finding the sword of Mars, always esteemed sacred among the kings of the Scythians. The historian Priscus says it was discovered under the following circumstances: “When a certain shepherd beheld one heifer of his flock limping and could find no cause for this wound, he anxiously followed the trail of blood and at length came to a sword it had unwittingly trampled while nibbling the grass. He dug it up and took it straight to Attila. He rejoiced at this gift and, being ambitious, thought he had been appointed ruler of the whole world, and that through the sword of Mars supremacy in all wars was assured to him.” . . . [omitted extensive material regarding details of clashes between the Huns and Romans along with their allies, the Visigoths, with a shakey peace established; also omitted outline of successor kings of the Visigoths in the fourth and fifth centuries].

[2. Eastern Goths / Ostrogoths]

48 (246) Since I have followed the stories of my ancestors and retold to the best of my ability the tale of the period when both descent groups, Ostrogoths and Visigoths, were united, and then clearly treated of the Visigoths apart from the Ostrogoths, I must now return to those ancient Scythian abodes and present the ancestry and deeds of the Ostrogoths in a similar manner. It appears that at the death of their king, Hermanaric, they were made a separate people by the departure of the Visigoths, and remained in their country subject to the sway of the Huns. . . . [omitted details of kings and incidents with little details on peoples involved].

[“Lesser” Goths]

51 (267) There were other Goths also, called the Lesser, a great people whose priest and principle leader was Wulfila, who is said to have taught them to write. And today they are in Moesia, inhabiting the region around Nikopolis as far as the base of mount Haimos. They are a numerous people, but poor and unwarlike, rich in nothing save flocks of various kinds and pasture-lands for cattle and forests for wood. Their country is not fruitful in wheat and other sorts of grain. Certain of them do not know that vineyards exist elsewhere, and they buy their wine from neighbouring countries. But most of them drink milk. . . . [omitted details regarding incidents involving kinds of the Ostrogoths].

59 (304) When Theodoric had reached old age and knew that he should soon depart this life, he called together the Gothic counts and chieftains of his descent group and appointed Athalaric as king. He was a boy scarce ten years old, the son of his daughter Amalasuentha, and he had lost his father Eutharic. As though uttering his last will and testament Theodoric adjured and commanded them to honour their king, to love the Senate and Roman People and to make sure of the peace and good will of the emperor of the east, as next after God.

(305) They kept this command fully so long as Athalaric their king [reigning as king of the Ostrogoths ca. 526-534 CE] and his mother lived [reigning ca. 534-535 CE], and ruled in peace for almost eight years. But as the Franks put no confidence in the rule of a child and furthermore held him in contempt, and were also plotting war, he gave back to them those parts of Gaul which his father and grandfather had seized. He possessed all the rest in peace and quiet. Therefore when Athalaric was approaching the age of manhood, he entrusted to the eastern emperor both his own youth and his mother’s widowhood. But in a short time the ill-fated boy was carried off by an untimely death and departed from earthly affairs. (306) His mother feared she might be despised by the Goths on account of the weakness of her sex. So after much thought she decided, for the sake of relationship, to summon her cousin Theodahad from Tuscany, where he led a retired life at home. So she established him on the throne. But he was unmindful of their kinship and, after a little time, had her taken from the palace at Ravenna to an island of the Bulsinian lake where he kept her in exile. After spending a very few days there in sorrow, she was strangled in the bath by his hirelings.

[Justinian’s defeat of a valiant descent group]

60 (307) When Justinian, the eastern emperor [reigning ca. 527-565 CE], heard this, he was aroused as if he had suffered personal injury in the death of his wards. Now at that time he had won a triumph over the Vandals in Africa, through his most faithful patrician Belisarius. Without delay he sent his army under this leader against the Goths at the very time when his arms were still dripping with the blood of the Vandals. (308) This sagacious general believed he could not overcome the Gothic people unless he should first seize Sicily, their nursing-mother. Accordingly he did so. As soon as he entered Trinacria, the Goths, who were besieging the town of Syracuse, found that they were not succeeding and surrendered of their own accord to Belisarius, with their leader Sinderith. When the Roman general reached Sicily, Theodahad sought out Evermud, his son-in-law, and sent him with an army to guard the strait which lies between Campania and Sicily and sweeps from a bend of the Tyrrhenian Sea into the vast tide of the Adriatic. (309) When Evermud arrived, he pitched his camp by the town of Rhegium. He soon saw that his side was the weaker. Coming over with a few close and faithful followers to the side of the victor and willingly casting himself at the feet of Belisarius, he decided to serve the rulers of the Roman Empire. When the army of the Goths perceived this, they distrusted Theodahad and clamoured for his expulsion from the kingdom and for the appointment as king of their leader Vitiges, who had been his armor bearer. (310) This was done and then Vitiges was raised to the office of king on the Barbarian plains. He entered Rome and sent on to Ravenna the men most faithful to him to demand the death of Theodahad. They came and executed his command. After King Theodahad was killed, a messenger came from the king (for he was already king in the Barbarian plains) to proclaim Vitiges to the people.

(311) Meanwhile the Roman army crossed the strait and marched toward Campania. They took Naples and pressed on to Rome. Now a few days before they arrived, king Vitiges had set forth from Rome, arrived at Ravenna and married Mathesuentha, the daughter of Amalasuentha and grand-daughter of Theodoric, the former king. While he was celebrating his new marriage and holding court at Ravenna, the imperial army advanced from Rome and attacked the strongholds in both parts of Tuscany. When Vitiges learned of this through messengers, he sent a force under Hunila, a leader of the Goths, to Perusia which was beleaguered by them. (312) While they were endeavouring by a long siege to dislodge count Magnus, who was holding the place with a small force, the Roman army came upon them, and they themselves were driven away and utterly exterminated. When Vitiges heard the news, he raged like a lion and assembled all the host of the Goths. He advanced from Ravenna and harassed the walls of Rome with a long siege. But after fourteen months his courage was broken and he raised the siege of the city of Rome and prepared to overwhelm Ariminum. (313) Here he was baffled in like manner and put to flight, and so he retreated to Ravenna. When besieged there, he quickly and willingly surrendered himself to the victorious side, together with his wife Mathesuentha and the royal treasure.

In this way a famous kingdom and most valiant descent group, which had long held sway, was at last overcome in almost its two thousand and thirtieth year by that conquerer of many peoples, the emperor Justinian, through his most faithful consul Belisarius. He gave Vitiges the title of patrician and took him to Constantinople, where he lived for more than two years, bound by ties of affection to the emperor, and then departed this life. (314) But his consort Mathesuentha was bestowed by the emperor upon the patrician Germanus, his cousin. They had a son, also called Germanus, after the death of his father Germanus. This union of the descent group of the Anicians with the stock of the Amalians gives hopeful promise, under the Lord’s favour, to both peoples.


(315) Now we have recited the origin of the Goths, the noble line of the Amalians and the deeds of brave men. This glorious descent group yielded to a more glorious prince and surrendered to a more valiant leader, whose fame shall be silenced by no ages or cycles of years. For the victorious and triumphant emperor Justinian and his consul Belisarius shall be named and known as Vandalicus, Africanus and Geticus [i.e. conquerors of the Vandals, Africans, and Getians].

(316) You who read this know that I have followed the writings of my ancestors, and have culled a few flowers from their broad meadows to weave a chaplet for him who cares to know these things. No one should believe that I have added anything besides what I have read or learned by inquiry in order to give an advantage to the descent group of which I have spoken, even though I in fact trace my own descent from this group. Even so, I have not included all that is written or told about them, nor spoken so much to their praise as to the glory of him who conquered them.


Source of the translation:  C.C. Mierow, The Gothic History of Jordanes (Princeton, NJ: PUP, 1915), public domain, adapted by Harland.

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