Political history

Goths and Dacians

Goths and Dacians

Kalin Stoev

Institute for Balkan Studies & Center of Thracology

Bulgarian Academy of Sciences


University of Library Studies and Information Technologies, Bulgaria

Fuculty of Library Studies and Cultural Heritage

20 June 2020
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Abstract: A notion has been given that Dacia as a land and Geto-Dacian history played a significant role in the Gothic self-reflection and thus the Roman Wars with Dacia and the Gothic invasions in Moesia serve as an arch-event in the Gothic ethnogenesis.

Key words: Goths, Dacians, Dacia, Jordanes, Dio Cassius

The ethnic identity is a complex concept -–most often sought in the minds of a community of common origin (collective myth), language, national name, distinctive common culture, settlement or association with a particular territory, feeling for solidarity.[1] The problems of early history of the Goths do not differ significantly from those existing so far. The Goths as a people were born in what could be called a wartime coalition of different tribes and in their beginnings were connected with the influential kingdoms, precisely "barbaric" associations in Central Europe, north of Roman limits. In certain periods of their development, they belonged to the Marcomanni,[2] the Vandals (the Lugi, the first opponent of the Goths in Jordanes), the Dacians. Hence, their ethnogenesis (the survival of certain toponyms or events as essential for the collective tribal memory) should be determined on the basis of key events, that left their strong impression in the Gothic cultural memory and their connection with a certain territory. The belonging to such groups, coalitions or monarchies left a mark on the ethnogenesis of the Goths, the most influential of which was the connection with Dacia.

We should use as a criterion the record of Jordanes – the most popular manifestation of Gothic history that we have. In the following lines will be presented some hypotheses of chronological and spatial nature about when the Gothic history, as codified in the writing of Jordanes, was actually born.

To outline the chronological framework of this article I will quote an almost winged thought of H. Wolfram that the Goths emerged as a historical people at the moment when the "Gutons" became Scythians.[3] This means that they appear as Goths on the historical stage – not as Guthi or Gutoni. They became "Scythians” with the beginning of the Gothic attacks on the Moesian provinces, but as Goths they emerge a little later – at the end of the 3rd century. As we shall see, this is largely due to their participation in larger "barbaric coalitions.” Of course, this topic presupposes the dominance of what is expressed in literature over what actually happened – further, a narrative mainly about the literary manifestation of the ethnogenesis of the Goths and what shaped it will follow and possibly a description of a particular historical reality that hides behind it. But in this case, it seems logical to assume that literature and reality overlap and it seems that the attacks on the Roman provinces in the third century became a kind of arch-event in the memory of the Goths – judging by the way they are celebrated in Jordan, of course.

I hope to show below that the decisive events in the Gothic ethnogenesis for this purpose are related to at least three historical processes that we can determine as defining features of the ethnogenesis of the Goths, which was later codified in the literature (in other words in Jordanes): the emancipation of the Goths as the dominant people in the coalitions North of Rome; the conquest of the first historical homeland of the Goths (a land with a lasting indication of their self-identification, which determines the overall overview of their past and is decisive for the later manipulation of "Gothi-Getae"); the split of the Goths into Visigoths and Ostrogoths.

These processes are interconnected, and their projection in later epochs is literary. Therefore, a brief presentation in terms of the way in which this part of the history of the Goths is presented in historical sources, focusing on two particularly indicative motives for our purposes – the late (late 4th century) identification of the Goths with the Getae and the genealogy of the Amals, would be eloquent. For this purpose, there are two important figures: Jordanes, who seems to present the latest version of at least two earlier, propagandist visions of the Goths – of Ablabius and Cassiodorus, which in turn, according to popular opinion, are based on both written and of oral tradition; and Ostrogotha, the Gothic king with whom seemingly the Gothic history had begun.[4]

The reason, however, to dwell in such detail on the figure of Ostrogotha is that according to most scholars, a major point in the ethnogenesis of the Goths is associated with the Ostrogotha and his royal authority. Influential authors, such as H. Wolfram and R. Wenskus, laid the foundation for the division of the Goths into Terving-Visigoths and Greutungi – Ostrogoths, which has been emphasized several times by Jordanes.[5] For this, Jordanes explicitly quotes a historian, Ablabius, who seems to have introduced the division of the Visigoths (Vesegothae) and the Ostrogoths, the latter being commanded by Ostrogotha. The point is that the historian himself contradicts himself, because a few passages below, he declares that Ostrogotha still rule both peoples. The latter takes place in the passage, which describes the battle of the Goths against the fraternal people – the Gepidi of Fastida, who were defeated by the Ostrogoths in a great battle in Dacia (Auha River, somewhere in Transylvania). From the point of view of textual criticism, the resolution of this contradiction is clear – the first opinion, that Ostrogotha ruled only the Visigoths belongs to Ablabius (who is followed by Cassiodorus?), hence it is literary, and the other is rather drawn from the Gothic oral tradition, because the exposition is very similar to the heroic saga of the Gothic conquest of Dacia, which Jordanes, using Orosius, called Gothia. This heroic saga of quite tendentious aims to define Ostrogotha as the leader of both Gothic peoples is also present in Jordanes, despite Ablabius statement that the division of the Goths began with Ostrogotha. Therefore, Ostrogotha’s figure is key one, from the point of view of the later perception of the Goths of their own history, and because of this he ought to be depicted as both a forerunner of the Ostrogoths, but also a king of all Goths, contrary to the version of Ablabius, who seems to have tried through it to find the correct etymology of the Ostrogothic people. [6]

This leads me to believe that in Jordanes, or more precisely in Cassiodorus, Gothic ethnogenesis had to be linked to Dacia, which means that the incorporation of Dacia into the text and genealogy of the Amals, which will be discussed later, was a propagandistic imperative. That is why Ostrogotha, a king from the time of Trajan Decius (probably known for this), is transferred to a legendary ruler of the war with the Getae from Cassiodorus or Jordan.[7] Whether he is a real person and whether he is Amal in this case does not matter. The important thing, in my opinion, is that a mythical king is connected in the sagas with the two decisive arch-events in the Gothic history – the war for Moesia and Thracia with Decius and the war for Dacia with the Gepids, which later became Gothia, this means, with the new Gothic homeland. The "Dacian" land, as the sagas apparently had said, must have been "conquered", taken from the Gepides, which is why Ostrogotha, historically associated with the wars of Decius, was tendentiously placed, perhaps by Jordanes, in the time of the conquest of Dacia and the battle with the Gepides in 291.

Hence, Dacia is closely connected with the Gothic tradition of the Amals (as was probably Ostrogotha), and is among the main reasons for the long-term association of the Goths with the Getae.

This must have been the decisive moment in the age of Gothic self-awareness and the conquest of Dacia, which would later become Gotiuda, the moment when the Goths found their patria. From now on it will be associated with the settlement of the Tervings in Dacia, after the end of the final struggle between Kniva and Ostrogotha and the violation of all royal power.[8] This is from where new alliances for the Goths and new coalitions will follow. From this patria will come almost all the decisive information related to the early history of the Goths - already Goths actually: the first federal treaties with Rome (332), the resettlement of the Gothi minores, the opposition to Constantius and the war with Valens.[9] In fact, the first "historical" period of the Goths begins here and the "early history" has passed, here the Gutons are now completely Goths.

There are many elements of a compositional nature that suggest such a thought. Several excursions give the impression that Gothic history is tendentiously described as a continuation of Dacian (Geto-Dacian) history, or more precisely that it is in the history of the Daco-Getae and their relationship with Rome that the Jordanes’ interpretation of Origo Gothica, created by Cassiodorus, is inserted.

The beginning of "Getica" has approximately the following compositional principle:

> geographical resource in Orosius

> Berig and the migration from Skandza

> transfer to the history of the Getae, where the history of Scythia and Zalmoxis is discussed, “bunte Mischung aus Excerpten von Dio Chrys., Orosius, Iustinus”, where it is given for the first time, Ablabi's version that the Goths are two genera, Balti and Amali.

> an excerpt about the military glory of the Amals and the songs about them – historical figures – Vidigoya and Fritigern, associated with the struggles with Rome in the 4th century.

> the prehistory of the Getae – Vesosis, Philip of Macedon

>   The Domitian War for Dacia

> the legend of the Amals

> шhe war in Moesia

> the war with the Gepides.

What the scheme clearly shows us is a bifurcation of several traditions, simply said an oral-Gothic one and classical one, merging in the story of the Dacian conquest by the Goths, which is associated with the Gepides. In this case, what Jordanes is doing, as we noted above, is to combine what he knows from the legends of the Amals Königsgschlecht with what he knows from the classical authors – the history of the Dacians and the Getae. This was done deliberately to combine the Gothic identity, hitherto migrating, with the discovery of the "sacred homeland."

To realize this scheme, we must first begin with the fact that is most telling, namely that Jordanes named the history of the Goths Getica, which actually equals to Gothica. The reason is not simply the identification of the Goths with the Getae imposed in the literature in the 4th – 5th centuries. Jordanes claims in this case that he draws “water from a spring” and almost directly tells himself that he was influenced by the work of Dio (Chrysostom or Cassius),[10] in other words by the only Goth story he actually knew and used: Jordanes (Get. IX, 58) says that Dio storicus dilegentissimus inquisitor, qui operi suo Getica titulum dedit, (quos Getas iam superiori loco Gothos esse probavimus, Orosio Paulo dicente) hic Dio regem illis post tempora multa commemorat nomine Telefum. The passage shows that although Orosius was the main culprit for the Goth-Getae association, the inspiration for centering the story on and around the Daco-Getae was Dio. Jordanes, in this case Cassiodorus, must have been well acquainted with both works (Dio and Orosius), because he quite correctly says that he complements the words of Dion with the concept of Orosius. In other words, Dio was believed to have narrated a Getic story, which forced Orosius to identify Goths with the Scythians, based on Dexipus, which, on his turn, was probably influenced by the Alexander – Heldenmythos (Oros. I, 16, 2). Jordanes – Cassiodorus, on the other hand, did not use all this tradition directly: it is clear that the Domitian War was told in Orosius, but nevertheless the quote of Dio is available. This means that Dio was explicitly mentioned by Cassiodorus as an authority who, with his Getica, also wrote Gothic (Getic) history. This clearly shows that Jordanes (or now we can say more precisely Cassiodorus) deliberately wanted to adapt the Getic and Dacian history to the Gothic one, using for the first Orosius and Dio, and for the other Dexipus and quite possibly the oral tradition of the leading Gothic family of the Amals.

Thus, it becomes clear, which is essential to us, that Dio and his sources are fundamental to the compositional scheme we find in Jordanes, who uses them and their information to build a Gothic legendary history. This means that at least in the beginning Dacia and the history of the Getae were considered as a basic or at least equal to the Gothic legends factor for the ethnogenesis of the Goths, rather according to Jordanes himself. This enhanced meaning of Dacia in the Gothic self-reflection for the past is without a doubt a result of the Gothic settlement in these provinces and in the former land of the Daco-Getae at all, which were considered to be Guttiuda. From part of the "Scythian" union, dominated by the Dacians, the Goths became masters of their Geto-Dacian territories. There, in the struggle of the Gepides, the Gothic tradition was born, which had to be connected with the "holy" leader Ostrogotha and the Goths "inherited" both parts of the "Daco-Gethic" space and their identity with the Getae was soon to appear.[11]


[1] For the ethnicity in ancient world: Siapkas 2014, 66–81.

[2] For the history of Catualda see Wolfram 2001

[3] Wolfram 2001

[4] For the aims and purposes of Jordanes’ History: Amici 2002.

[5] Wenskus 1961, 462 ff.

[6] Compare with Nordgrenn 2004,  339, that Ostrogotha led only the Ostrogoths was inserted by Cassiodorus, otherwise he was king of all the Goths; Köpke 1859, 102–103, the Ostrogoths was the leader of all.

[7] Compare with Wolfram 2018.

[8] Wolfram 2001, 89.

[9] A sketch of Gothic political history and relations with Rome: Heather 1994.

[10] Köpke 1859, 51–52.

[11] See also Stoev, in print.


Dio = Dio Cassius Cocceianus Historia Romana

Jord. Get. = Jordanes, Getica sive De Origine Actibusque Gothorum

Oros. = Paulus Orosius, Historia adversum paganos septem libri.

Secondary Sources:

Amici, A. (2002) Iordanes e la storia Gotica (Spoleto).

Heather, P. (1994) Goths and Romans (332–489) (Oxford).

Köpke, R. (1859) Anfänge der Königstum bei der Goten. (Berlin).

Nordgren, I. (2004) The Well Spring of the Goths: About the Gothic peoples in the Nordic Countries and on the Continent. (Lincoln)

Siapkas, J. (2014) “Ancient Ethnicity and Modern Identity.” – In: McInerey, J. (ed.), A Companion to Ethnicity in Ancient Mediterranean (Oxford).

Wenskus, R. (1961) Stammesbildung und Verfassung. Das Werden der frühmittelalterlichen Gentes. (Köln-Graz).

Wolfram, H. (2001) Die Goten. Von den Anfängen bis zur Mitte des sechsten Jahrhunderts. Entwurf einer historischen Eethnografie. 4. Auflage.

Wolfram, H. (2018) „Ostrogotha – ein mythischer Amaler erhält zumindest einen historischen Namensvetter. Lebenswelten zwischen Archäologie und Geschichte.“ In: Jörg Drauschke u. a. (Hrsg.): Lebenswelten zwischen Archäologie und Geschichte (Mainz).


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