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Denmark's History

14. The Goths in Spain and the Arian faith

The Western Goths drew the short straw in the struggle for Gaul against the Franks, probably because the Franks were Catholics, while the Western Goths were for a very long time faithful to the Arian faith, which was characteristic of all Germanic emigrants. But the Goths created a kingdom on the Iberian Peninsula that lasted for 185 years, until they were defeated at the Battle of Guadalete in 711 by a Muslim invading army, probably summoned by an intriguing political clique among the Goths themselves.

1. The Western Goths in Spain

We left the Goths in Gaul, when their king Alaric II fell in battle against the Franks at Vougle south of Poitiers in AD 507. and nearly all their territories in Gaul were lost to the Franks. The king's men brought his five-year-old son, Amalarik, over the Pyrenees to Spain.

Thanks to an alliance with Theoderik the Great in Italy, the Visigoths managed to retain a narrow strip of land in Gaul along the French Mediterranean coast. Theoderic the Great became the guardian of Amalaric, but in practice his general, Theudis, ruled the country as a king.

There is little evidence of the Goths in modern Spain. There are some golden crowns and crosses but also four churches, two of which are in present-day Portugal and two in Spain. This is the church of San Pedro de la Nave at Zamora west of Valladolid - Photo Los Godos Encuentro ediciones..

When Theoderik died in 526 AD. Amalarik was 24 years old. He was chosen as king over all the Gothic territories west of the river Rhone, and the royal treasure of the Visigoths was sent from Ravenna to Narbonne, where the young king held his court.

Amalarik managed to marry the Frankish princess Clotilda, and thus he had neutralized his dangerous neighbors to the north - he thought.

But as a condition for the marriage, Clotilda had stipulated before the wedding that she would be allowed to keep her own Catholic religion among the Arian Goths. However, this promise was not kept, and Clotilda sent her bloodstained scarf back to her brother, King Hildebert of Paris, as a sign that she had been wronged.

A Frankish king was always ready to seize any pretext to attack his weaker neighbours. Soon a strong Frankish army was marching towards Narbonne. He defeated the Goths, who fled over the Pyrenees to Spain, and Hildebert returned home to Paris laden with Gothic treasures, and with plunder from the heretical Arian churches.

On orders from Theudis, King Amalarik was killed in a church in Barcelona and the people then elected Theudis as king.

The line of kings of the Western Goths - It was many years ago, and therefore the spelling and the precise years may vary. Fellow kings are not included.

At the request of King Hildibad, who at this time was the Gothic king of Italy, King Theudis - perhaps around 540 AD - led an army to Africa to attack the cities that Belisarius had captured from the Vandals. It was repulsed, however, with great losses, and Theudis himself narrowly escaped with his life.

Again around 548 AD. the Franks attacked Spain and besieged Caesar Augusta, which is now called Saragossa. However, they were somehow defeated. The Goths caught up with the fleeing Franks at the foot of the Pyrenees, and the Frankish army would have been completely annihilated had not its generals paid the Gothic general a large sum of money to be allowed to escape back to Gaul through the mountain pass.

Shortly after these events, Theudis was assassinated in his palace by one of his own soldiers. On his deathbed he regretted his part in the murder of the young king Amalaric.

Then the Goths chose Theudigisel as the new king. He was the general who had led them to victory over the Franks. But he soon proved to be a cruel tyrant, and all the people rejoiced, when he was killed by one of his guests at a palace banquet after only 18 months as king.

The northern provinces then elected Agila as king, but he was not recognized in the south of Spain.

The rebellion in the southern provinces was led by Athanagild, who asked Constantinople for help. The emperor did not hesitate for a moment to send a strong army led by Patrician Liberius.

The civil war lasted five years until Agila was killed by his own soldiers and Athanagild became king of the entire kingdom. Athanagild's reign then lasted for 14 years, which would have been marked by peace and prosperity had it not been for the wars against the dangerous allies whom he himself had invited to the land. The emperor's soldiers had occupied many cities in southern Spain, and the Goths found it impossible to drive them out.

Athanagild sought security against his powerful Frankish neighbors through matrimonial connections, as several other Gothic kings had sought before him. His youngest daughter Brunihilde married King Sigebert, King of the East Franks. His brother, Chilperic, king of the north-west Franks, courted Athanagild's eldest daughter, Geleswintha. Despite her tears and prayers, her parents forced her to accept the unwelcome bridegroom. Both princesses converted to their husbands' Catholic religion.

Ruin of Gothic basilica at Recopolis at Zorita de los Canes in Guadaljara about 60 km east of Madrid - John of Biclar wrote: "King Leovigild returned home after everywhere destroying the usurpers and destroyers of Spain to seek rest with his own people, and he built a city in Celtiberia which was named Reccopolis after his son" (Reccared) - Photo Los Godos Encuentro ediciones.

After a short time, Chilperik's devotion to his queen was weakened by a woman named Fredegunda, and he had Geleswintha killed.

Brunihild spurred her husband to avenge the murder of her sister. In the war between two Frankish kingdoms, Sigebert fell, and Brunihild then had a long and stormy reign as queen mother. She was a woman of great energy and strong will, she was a great ruler, but it is said that she was tyrannical and ruthless. It was said that ten kings and queens lost their lives in the intrigues she created. Eventually she lost her power to her enemy, Fredegunda, who had her tied behind a horse and dragged along the ground until she died. Then her mutilated body was thrown on the pyre.

Column head in the Gothic church of San Pedro de la Nave at Zamora west of Valladolid. Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. Photo Los Godos Encuentro ediciones.

Unaware of his eldest daughter's fate, the sisters' father, Athanagild, died in 567 AD. in his palace in Toledo. He was the first king of the Western Goths, since Eurik, to die a natural death.

Thanks to the experiences of the civil war, which the Goths still had fresh in their minds, they now peacefully chose a certain Leuva as their new king. He was a quiet man who preferred to stay in his hometown of Narbonne on the present-day French Mediterranean coast and leave the actual government of Spain to his brother, Leovigild, who after a few years was elected king.

Leovigild was one of the great kings of the Goths. He was a skilled general who conquered the northwestern part of the Iberian Peninsula, where the Swabians still lived. He wrested from the emperor's soldiers several of the cities, which they still held in southern Spain. He built fortresses, founded cities and gave new laws. Under his rule the Goths and the Roman natives began to feel themselves as inhabitants of one kingdom, it is said.

Column head in the Gothic church of San Pedro de la Nave at Zamora west of Valladolid. Daniel in the lion's den. Photo Los Godos Encuentro ediciones.

But Leovigild is best known because he tragically killed his own son, Ermengild.

Prince Ermengild married a Frankish princess named Ingunthis, who was the daughter of Sigebert and Brunihild. As a Frankish princess, she was naturally a staunch Catholic. However, Leovigild's queen, Goiswintha, was a stubborn Arian and by many means she pressured Ingunthis to convert to the Arian faith. For the sake of domestic peace, the king sent the young couple to southern Spain, which Ermengild was tasked with ruling on the king's behalf.

But, Ermengild's uncle, Leander, was a Catholic bishop in Seville. Together with Ingunthis, he persuaded Ermengild to abandon the Arian faith of his ancestors and convert to Catholicism. He then made common cause with the remnants of the Imperial army and led a rebellion against his heretical father.

Column head in the Gothic church of San Pedro de la Nave at Zamora west of Valladolid. A face. Photo Los Godos Encuentro ediciones.

With prayers and persuasion, the king tried to bring his favorite son to his senses, but Ermengild refused to listen. Eventually the king had to mobilize the army, and before long the last rebels were besieged in Seville. The siege lasted two years and thousands of inhabitants starved to death.

When the city fell, the son fled to Cordova. But for a nice payment, his new Roman friends from Constantinople betrayed him to his father.

King Leovigild found his son in a church. He begged his father for mercy, and he burst into tears and clasped his son in his arms. The king asked him to reside in Valencia as a private person and to keep out of politics, which he promised to do.

But not a year had passed before King Leovigild heard that his son had broken his promise and was on his way to the Franks in Gaul. He had left his wife to the officers from Constantinople, and it seems to have been his intention to induce the Franks to assist him in another attempt to depose his father.

Ermengild was captured by the king's men in Tarragona south of Barcelona and thrown into a dungeon. Messengers from his father, the king, repeatedly promised him freedom and rehabilitation if he would only renounce his new faith. But he scornfully rejected all entreaties and called the Arian bishop a servant of the devil. King Leovigild then ordered his son to be killed. An executioner was sent to the prison and the prince was killed with a blow of an ax without any prior trial.

Gothic Spain at the death of Leovigild 586 AD. The green areas represent areas occupied by the Byzantine army that Athanagild had invited to the country. The kingdom of the Swabians no longer existed, and the Basques were also subject to Gothic rule, although they often rebelled. Photo spainthenandnow.com ​

When Leovigild died, he was succeeded by his second son, Reccared, who had already distinguished himself as an able general, who had won several victories over the Franks. He showed wisdom and energy as a ruler.

Reccared saw clearly that the Goths would draw the short straw in the struggle against the growing power of the Catholic Church. He decided to convert to the Catholic faith and encourage the Goths to follow his example. Thereby the Goths would have the same religion as the great majority of their subjects.

King Reccared summoned bishops from both religions and invited them to hold a public discussion in which they argued for their respective beliefs. He was anxious to know the truth, he said. Scholars on both sides displayed all their eloquence, and when the discussion was over, the king proclaimed his conviction that the Catholic faith was the right one, because it was supported by overwhelming evidence from Holy Scripture and many miracles. Not only Gothic ordinary citicens, but even clergy, including many bishops, quickly followed the king's example.

Ermengild was elevated to martyr and saint by the Catholic Church on April 13, 586 AD. - Painted by Francisco de Herrera in 1654.

During Reccared's reign, the Frankish king Guntram attempted to conquer the gothic territories in southern Gaul. A huge army entered the Narbonnese province and besieged the city of Carcassonne. But Reccared's general named Claudius inflicted a crushing defeat on the Franks.

Reccared died of illness in the year 601 AD. and the Goths chose his young son Leuva as the new king. However, he only ruled for two years until a nobleman named Witerik overthrew him and had himself elected king. Leuva had his right hand chopped off and died soon in prison.

It is said that Witerik wanted to reintroduce the Arian religion. He ruled for 7 years until he was killed at a banquet in the year 610 AD and then buried in unconsecrated ground. His successor, Gundemar, ruled for only two uneventful years.

Then Sisebut was elected king in 612 AD. In his time almost all the remaining officers of Constantinople were forced to give up their possessions in Spain. The Goths had already sold them as slaves, but King Sisebut bought them free with his own money.

Sisebut was the first gothic king who ever persecuted the Jews. "Baptism within a year or whipping, banishment and confiscation of goods," was the choice that Sisebut presented to the Jews. Thousands of Jews pretended to accept the gospel. Until then the Jews had supported the Goths, both groups being in some opposition to the Catholic majority, but the forced conversions under Sisebut turned them into enemies, and when the kingdom was invaded by the Moors they eagerly supported the invaders.

Reccared's conversion to Catholicism. Painted by Munoz Degrain exhibited in the Senate Palace in Madrid. ​.

When Sisebut died in 621 AD his general Swinthila was elected king. He was the first king to rule over the entire Iberian Peninsula.

The officers of Constantinople, whose territory Sisebut had limited to a small strip of land, under Swinthila became subjects of the Gothic kingdom, and their soldiers served in the Gothic armies. The rebellious Basques were brought into submission. Swinthila sought to limit the power of the Gothic nobility and clergy, the common people showed their devotion by calling him "Father of the Poor".

Swinthila appointed his son Reccimer as his co-king without consulting the Gothic nobles and clergy, and in doing so he provoked a rebellion led by a nobleman named Sisenanth. By promising the Frankish king Dagobert a famous jeweled gold bowl from the royal treasury, this Sisenanth gained Frankish support for the rebellion. It was a golden bowl or tablet, richly set with jewels, weighing five hundred pounds. Aetius had given it to Thorismund, as part of his share of the spoils from the victory over Attila in AD 453.

As agreed, the Franks marched into Spain, Swinthila's followers surrendered, and Sisenanth was crowned at Saragossa. The Frankish army then returned home to Paris, and Dagobert sent trusted ambassadors to retrieve the promised golden bowl. Sisenanth delivered the precious item as he had promised. But the Goths became so indignant and revolted at the thought of losing their famous treasure, that they took it by force from the frankish ambassadors, and brought it back in triumph to Toledo. Sisenanth did not dare to oppose the will of the people, and he had to pay the Franks a large sum of money in compensation.

Gothic coulumn heads in the Mosque of Abd al-Rahman in Cordoba built in 784 AD above The Gothic Church of San Vicente - Photo Los Godos Encuentro ediciones.

The general development was that after the Goths had accepted the Catholic faith, the clergy gained more and more power.

In the year 633 AD 69 bishops confirmed Sisenanth's right to the throne. The bishops then decreed that in the future, when a king died, his successor should be chosen by a council of nobles and clergy. A king who attempted to raise his son to royal dignity without the consent of the council was to suffer eternal perdition. It was also decided that from now on priests and bishops should be free from all taxation.

Kindila was chosen as his successor in 638 AD. In his time the bishops gained even more power. It was decided that each future king before his coronation would have to take an oath not to tolerate heretics or Jews in his kingdom. Furthermore, kings had to be of noble gothic descent.

Kindila died in 640, and according to the rules he was succeeded by his son Tulga, who was destined to become a king entirely to the taste of the bishops. However, this did not prevent a nobleman named Kindaswinth from leading a successful rebellion which brought him to the throne himself.

Kindaswinth was a strong-willed and determined king. He introduced a regime of terror, which made both clergy and nobles feel fully that it was the king who was master of the nation. Two hundred Goths of the noblest families and five hundred of lower rank were put to death for conspiring against the throne. Many others were banished, and their estates confiscated or given to the king's loyal followers. All opposition was crushed, and the kingdom was brought into a state of peace and order which it had not known for a very long time.

King Recceswinth's Gothic law, which decreed that everyone in the kingdom should be judged according to the same law, namely Gothic law. Front page from a reprint in the year 1600.

In 649 AD he was succeeded by his son Recceswinth, who seems to have inherited his father's energy but not his hardness. In his time it became law that the wealth that a king had accumulated during his reign should belong to the royal office and thus to future kings, and not be inherited by a single king's family.

Recceswinth ruled his people for 23 years with such success that the kingdom enjoyed uninterrupted peace except for a Basque rebellion, led by a gothic nobleman named Froya. The leader was captured and executed. But the Basques were successful in their complaints, and they could then accept the rule of the gothic king.

But the main reason why Recceswinth deserves to be remembered is that he continued the work that Leovigild and Reccared had begun, that of integrating the Goths and the other Spaniards into one nation. Until his time, intermarriage between the two peoples had been prohibited by law. Recceswinth abolished the ban. He also abolished the use of Roman law. Until then, Goths had been judged according to Gothic law, and the rest of the kingdom's population according to Roman law. He decided that henceforth both Goths and the other inhabitants should be judged according to gothic law.

Recccswinth died at the castle of Gerticos near Valladolid about AD 672. The best men of the kingdom were gathered around his deathbed to discuss who should succeed him.

Everyone knew that difficult times lay ahead, and they unanimously pointed to a nobleman named Wamba. But even after hard pressure, Wamba kept refusing on the grounds that he was an elderly man and did not have the strength required of a king in troubled times. At last an officer of the royal guard seized his spear and exclaimed, "Wamba, you shall never leave this chamber except as a dead man or as a king!" The assembly gave its approval and then Wamba understood the seriousness of their recommendation and accepted.

Krone fra kong Recceswinth's tid fundet i Guarranzar nær Toledo

Crown from the time of King Recceswinth found between 1858 and 1861 with eleven others in an orchard called Guarranzar near Toledo. It is made of gold and precious stones, and can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid. The treasure also contained many gold crosses. Part of the crowns disappeared and was melted down in connection with the find, and the rest of the treasure is divided between several museums. - The Guarranzar Treasure represents a pinnacle of gothic goldsmithing. It was probably buried in 711 AD. when the Muslims approached Toledo - photo Mediavalmusings.

Quite a short time after Wamba had been crowned in Toledo, word came that both the Basques and the provinces of southern Gaul and northeastern Spain were in open rebellion.

King Wamba sent his general Paulus against the rebels in the Gallic provinces. But as soon as he had arrived at Narbonne, he called his officers together, and urged them to renounce their allegiance to this foolish old man, who had allowed himself to be forced to accept the crown. It was proposed to elect Paulus as king instead.

The rebel leaders Hilderic and Wittimer and their followers joined the proposal, and a few weeks later Paul was crowned at Narbonne as King of the Goths.

When King Wamba received intelligence that his treacherous general had been accepted as king of the Gallic cities and a large part of northeastern Spain, he was engaged in battle against the rebellious Basques. Before long he had suppressed the Basque rebellion, and only then did he lead his forces into the rebellious provinces south of the Pyrenees. In a short time all the cities had opened their gates, or had been taken by storm.

When Paulus heard that Wamba was on his way to Narbonne, he retreated to Nimes, leaving Narbonne to the leadership of the rebel leader Wittimer.

Shortly afterwards Wamba, at the head of his army, appeared before the walls of Narbonne and called upon Wittimer to surrender. The appeal was scornfully rejected, and after a terrible struggle the city was taken. Wittimer and his followers were then whipped through the streets of Narbonne.

Next, Wamba sent the army to attack Nimes. Paulus and his men defended themselves bravely for a whole day. The next day the Goths received reinforcements, and after five hours of fierce fighting, the gates were stormed and Wamba's troops poured into the city, killing everything in their path.

Paulus and his men entrenched themselves in the great Roman amphitheater, the ruins of which still exist at Nimes, but they had not prepared sufficient supplies of water and food, and had to surrender in a few days. The leaders of the rebellion were punished by scalping and imprisonment for life.

King Wamba ruled wisely and decisively, and during his reign there was peace and prosperity. He was no enemy of the church, but he properly kept priests and bishops in check. He decreed that clerics at all levels should have the duty to bear arms to defend the country like other citizens when necessary. Wamba also decreed that men who had been born slaves, that is freedmen, could also serve in the army.

Gold crown with gems from the Guarranzar treasure found near Toledo

Another gold crown with gems from the Guarranzar treasure found near Toledo. Photo Pinterest.

Wamba was the last great king of the Goths. Some believe that the society had developed into a proper fedual society, where the once numerous class of free men, who were the elite warriors of the army, had been reduced to a small group of very rich landowners, and the daily life of the people was controlled by a host of priests, monks and bishops.

Seven years after the revolt in the Gallic provinces, perhaps around AD 680 he abdicated and was succeeded by Erwig, who was anointed and crowned by Archbishop Julian of Toledo.

Throughout his reign, Erwig was little more than a puppet in the hands of the archbishop. Erwig's legislation was mostly about to nullify the laws that Wamba had made. The sanctions for those who evaded conscription were eased. Priests and bishops were no longer obliged to take part in the defense of the kingdom. Those who had been guilty of rebellion against the former ruler were given back their forfeited titles and estates, and all taxes due at the end of Erwig's first year of reign were cancelled. The unfortunate Jews, whose conditions had been somewhat softened during Wamba's reign, now became more oppressed than ever.

In the year 687 AD, the country was ravaged by a great famine, which Erwig considered God's punishment for his crimes. He retired to a monastery, where he died the same year.

King Erwig had appointed Wamba's nephew Egica as his successor and given him his daughter as wife. In return, Egica had to swear that he would protect the dowager queen and the entire royal family and all their property.

Egica's first act as king was to convene a council of the kingdom consisting of nobles and clergy. He asked them the question: "When I was married to King Erwig's daughter, he made me swear that I would always protect his widow and children in the enjoyment of their property. But when I was anointed king, I swore to exercise equal justice to all my subjects. It is impossible for me to keep both of these oaths, for much of the wealth that Erwig left behind was won by extortion. To secure his throne, Erwig reduced many nobles to slavery and confiscated their property. They or their heirs will now demand reparation. My coronation oath bids me grant them favor, but the oath which I took to Erwig forbids this. I beseech you, venerable fathers, tell me what it is my duty to do."

The bishops replied that the promise to the nation overruled private obligations. They further added that since Erwig, by appointing Egica as his successor, had caused him to take the second oath, he had thereby released him from his previous obligations, which were incompatible with it. In this way, Egica succeeded in overcoming the carefully devised plans of her predecessor for the interests of her family.

Egica died and in 701 and was succeeded by his son Witica. The new king pardoned many whom his father had banished or vanquished and rehabilitated them with their estates. There were many other wealthy individuals whom Egica had forced to sign debt documents as debtors to the treasury. Witica ordered these papers burned in public. There seems to have been a financial crisis for the treasury in the first year of his reign, perhaps due to the king's excessive generosity towards tax debtors.

The entrance to the muslim Alcazaba flanked by two gothic columns in the city of Merida. Photo Los Godos Encuentro ediciones.

It seems that Witica was loved by the people and hated and feared by the clergy because he tried to reform the church. A clerical writer complained that Sindered, the Archbishop of Toledo, "inspired with a zeal for holiness, but not according to knowledge", obeyed the King's orders by continually harassing and persecuting men of high status among the clergy.

It is probable that he encouraged priests to marry and that he showed some understanding of the Jews. It is easy to understand why in the religious literature of later times he has been accused of all sorts of terrible heresies, and that he should have been the great sinner whose impiety drew down the wrath of Heaven upon the unhappy nation.

Witica died in 710 AD. and left behind two minor sons. He had pointed to one of his sons as his successor, but the council of the kingdom chose instead a nobleman named Roderic, who was commander in chief of the army. Perhaps they knew that storm clouds were rising over Gothic Spain.

Nobody knows very much about how a warlike nation like the Goths in Spain could be overcome in such a short time by a muslim army.

There are myths that tell of the division of the Goths, of how Roderic avenged his father, who had been blinded by the cruel king Witica. Another myth tells of Count Julian, who was in command of Cetua, the gothic outpost in Africa. When Julian learned that King Roderic had disgraced his daughter, the beautiful Florinda, he made common cause with the muslims and showed them how to invade Spain. Led by a berber chieftain named Tarik and guided by Julian, they immediately set sail and landed at Gibraltar, which they afterwards called Jebel Tarik.

It is said that the gothic governor of the southern provinces, Theudemer, was caught off guard and sent word to King Roderic requesting support. The king, who was just fighting against the rebellious Basques in the Pyrenees, broke up his camp and hurried south. He invited his army from all parts of the country to meet him at Cordova. A hundred thousand men rallied under his banner, it is said.

But among the great multitude few were loyal to their king. The gothic nobles, who had only reluctantly submitted to his rule, now said to each other, "Why should we risk our lives in defense of the usurper of the throne. The Moors are only interested in spoils, when Roderic is slain, they will go home with their plunder, and then we can give the throne to whoever we want." Roderic, on the other hand, believed that the country was now threatened by an infidel enemy, and his rivals should put aside their selfish aims and stand together against the common danger. Trustingly, he entrusted the command of the two wings of the army to Witica's two sons.

The Goths were defeated by a large islamic army at Guadalete near Seville, the details are shrouded in darkness and mystery. The great battle took place on the banks of the river Guadalete about 16 km southeast of Jerez de la Frontera south of Seville. It is said that the battle lasted 7-8 summer days.

The gothic King Roderic addresses his troops before the Battle of Guadalete Photo Fitzroy. Painting by Bernardo Blanco, 1871. Prado Museum TW wiki.

A myth tells that after several days of fighting, Witica's sons made an agreement with the Moors, which led to the complete defeat of King Roderic, who himself fell in battle. After that, the muslims were able to spread over the country almost without resistance, taking city after city, until "the green flag of the prophet waved from the towers of the royal palace of Toledo."

The story of Witica's sons going over to the enemy is probably another Catholic effort to blacken Witica. The battle took place in 711 or 712 AD. just a year or two after Roderic's coronation, on which occasion Witica's sons were minors. Then they were probably also minors a few years after when the Moors invaded, and therefore unfit to lead an army on their own.

It is difficult to understand that a warlike people like the goths completely collapsed before the muslims in that way. But when you study their history, you will see that they have had a history full of intense internal rivalry with many rebellions and civil wars, which several times resulted in one of the rival parties inviting foreign armies to participate in internal confrontations.

- Theudis killed King Amalaric in 531 AD.
- In a civil war between the southern and northern provinces, the southern king   Athanagild appealed to Constantinople for help in 554 AD.
- Witerik led a successful rebellion against the young king Leuva in 572 AD.
- Ermengild leading a rebellion against his royal father, Leovigild, and sought Frankish   help around 580 AD.
- Sisenanth promised the Frankish king Dagobert gold from the treasury of the Goths in   return for Frankish support in his rebellion in 631 AD.
- Kindaswinth led a rebellion that overthrew the young king Tulga in 642 AD.
- Generals Paulus and Wittimer rebelled against King Wamba in 672 AD.

That's about one rebellion every 25 years in average.

Battle of Guadalete - unknown artist - TW Wiki.

It is easy to imagine that one party in the political game summoned the Moors to fight their political rivals.

To put a large army of many thousands of men and horses across the Strait of Gibraltar with the ships of the day must have been an operation which took weeks or rather months. It is not likely that the Moors could have transferred many thousands of men, horses and equipment in small boats which landed on the beach. They must have used a port, fully visible to everyone, and even then it would have taken months. One has to wonder that the Goths allowed a large Islamic army with cavalry to come ashore and did not stop the invasion in time. The only reasonable explanation is that a political faction had invited them to fight their rivals.

We don't know what happened, we just have to face the fact that the Goths lost and thus disappeared from history.

But anyone is free to consider who in Gothic Spain had so much wealth that they could tempt such a large Muslim army that was able to conquer most of the country. And who had the power to erase all traces, when things went wrong?

2. The Goths' religion

Arian Baptistery in Ravenna, built by Theoderic the Great - Photo wikipedia.

Jordanes says that the Goths originally worshiped the war god Mars by sacrificing prisoners of war and with other cruel rituals. They believed that since he was the god of war, it was necessary to shed human blood to appease him. They probably performed rituals very similar to those performed by the Cimbri a few hundred years earlier.

They dedicated the first part of the booty to the god of war, says Jordanes. To him they hung up in sacred trees the weapons of the enemy. They had, more than any other race, a deep spirit of religion, as the worship of this god really seemed to have been handed down from their distant progenitor, who was Gaut.

The Germanic peoples adopted the ancient seven-day week, but replaced the Roman god names with their own - with the exception of Saturday. The days of the week were thus named after Sun, Moon, Tyr, Odin, Thor and Frigg or Freya. Saturday fell outside the system, as it came to be called laugardagr, which means "washing day".

Ceiling mosaic in the Arian Baptistery in Ravenna, depicting the Father, the Son and John the Baptist. Photo TravelMarx.

The Romans originally had an eight-day week, the seven-day week was introduced around the year 0 AD. but did not immediately catch on. First Constantine established in 321 AD. that the week had seven days, probably in connection with the victory of Christianity. The Germanic peoples, including the Goths, probably could not have become familiar with the seven-day week before around 200 AD at the earliest. The naming of the days of the week after the old gods must then have taken place before the tribes became Christians, which in the case of the Goths happened around 370-380 AD. Therefore, we must assume that the belief in the Ase-Gods Tyr, Odin, Thor and Freya was in all probability widespread among the Goths, when they lived by the Black Sea.

Almost all Germanic migration peoples quickly adopted Christianity in the form of the Arian faith. Arianism was characterized by the belief that the Father (God) is eternal and uncreated, while the Son (Jesus) is derived from the Father and has not always existed, and that the Father stands above the Son.

Wall painting in church in Doli, Greece, showing the heretic Arius being swallowed by the great beast with the flames of hell in the background. Photo: zorbas.de.

The Christian cross appears on coins of the Eudosos Goths in the Crimea after 311 AD. The Western Goths probably became Christians immediately after arriving in the Roman Empire in 376 AD. It is not known when the Eastern Goths became Christians, but when they arrived in Italy in 489 AD they were convinced Arians.

Arius is said to have been inspired by the Gospel of John verses 14 to 28, especially 28, where Jesus says: "You have already heard me say that I will leave you and that I will also come back to you. If you really love me, be glad that I will go back to the Father, because he is greater than I."

The Catholic and Protestant thesis of the Trinity, on the other hand, defines God as a unity composed of three entities namely: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. There is only one God, who, however, is composed of three.

There is very little material preserved that can shed light on the Arian faith of the migration period. Almost everything has long since been burned and destroyed by the Catholics. Already the emperor Constantine decreed: "Furthermore, if anything written by Arius is found, it must be consigned to the flames, so that not only the evil of his teaching will be wiped out, but nothing will remain that can remind anyone of him. And herewith I issue the public order, that if anyone should be discovered to have concealed a writing written by Arius, and has not immediately delivered it up and destroyed it with fire, his penalty shall be death. As soon as he is discovered in this crime, he shall be sent for execution - "

Graphic representation of the Catholic and Protestant Trinity.

However, Isidore of Seville wrote about the year 600 AD: "Then Ulfilas, bishop of these Goths, created the Gothic script and translated the scriptures of the New and Old Testaments into this language. And as soon as the Goths began to have writing and law, they established even churches which maintained their own doctrine, having such precepts as Arius himself of the actual divine nature, holding that the Son is inferior to the Father in majesty, and later than Him in eternity. They believed that the The Holy Spirit is neither God, nor has his existence from the Father, but that he was created by the Son, he is at the disposal of both, and is placed under the authority of both. They also declared that just as the person and nature of the Father are separate (perhaps meaning independent) from the person and nature of the Son, which are also separate, and finally, that the person and nature of the Holy Spirit are also separate; so that they did not (according to the tradition of the Holy Scriptures) worship one God and Lord, but who in the idolatry of superstition worshiped three gods".

Isidore was a contemporary of King Reccared, who converted from Arianism to Catholicism with all the people. Perhaps Isidor himself was present at the forum that Reccared held to discuss the two faiths.

In connection with the mention of Reccared's synod, Isidore of Seville wrote: "- together with all his subjects he has renounced the lie which the nation of the Goths had until now learned from Arius and proclaimed the unity of the three persons in God, which declares that The Son was born of the Father from the same substance and nature, that the Holy Spirit is inseparable from the Father and the Son and is of the same spirit as both, therefore they are one." - One have to recognize that Christianity is a mystery religion.

Constantine I Supervises Burning of Arian Books

Constantine I Supervises Burning of Arian Books - Illustration i from a book of canon law from around 825 AD. - Photo Wikipedia.

Procopius gives us a glimpse of the Arian religion in his account of the war against the Vandals in Africa. Some time after the emperor's troops had defeated the Vandals in Africa, some of them mutinied on the arrival of an imperial emissary named Solomon. Procopius tells the causes of the mutiny: "And there was also another, parallel cause, which was no less, perhaps even more effective in throwing all Libya into confusion. It was as follows: In the Roman army, when this happened, there were not less than a thousand soldiers of the Arian faith; and most of these were barbarians, some of these were of the Herulian nation. Now these men were urged to the mutiny by the Vandal priests with the greatest zeal. For it was not possible for them to worship God in their accustomed manner, but they were excluded both from all the sacraments and from all the holy rites. For the Emperor Justinian did not permit any Christian who did not adhere to the orthodox faith to receive baptism or any other communion. But most of all they were excited at the feast of Easter, when they found themselves unable to baptize their own children with the holy water, or do anything else concerning that feast."

"And when the rest were preparing to celebrate the Passover festival, the Arians, angry at their exclusion from the sacred rites, intended to attack them decisively. And it seemed convenient to their leading men to kill Solomon in the sanctuary on the first day of this party, as they call the great day."

Also Gregory of Tours can tell us something about the Arian faith in his "Historia Francorum": "But that day and that hour (the last day) no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Moreover we will here give an answer to the heretics who assail us, who allege that the Son is inferior to the Father, since he is ignorant of this day. Let them know that the Son is here applied to the Christian people of whom God says : "I will be to them a father, and they shall be to me sons." For if he had spoken these words of the only begotten son, he would never have given the first place to the angels."

And elsewhere in the "Historia Francorum": "Now they belonged to the Arian sect, and as it is their custom that for those who go to the altar, kings receive one cup and the less important people another - "

Isidore of Seville from Medieval Book Illustration. Photo Orthodox Wiki.

But perhaps the most important hint of the nature of Arianism comes from the original name of the church in Ravenna, which today is called the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo.

In 504 AD, Theoderic dedicated the newly built church to "Christ the Redeemer". It is only a guess, but Latter-day Saints and probably many Protestant faiths believe that only Christ has the power to redeem us from our sins, and the same may have been the case with the Arians. This is in marked contrast to the Catholic Church, where all priests can grant absolution.

In the time of migration, death was a frequent visitor, and anyone could die at any time, and therefore there was a greater interest in life after death than there is typically today. Perhaps the subjects of the Goths were more anxious types, who were not entirely satisfied with Christ's invisible presence. They wanted a person, a priest, who could look them in the eyes and assure them that they were forgiven and saved. It is easy to understand that the Catholic clergy thereby had something that everyone else wanted, which was a source of power and wealth.

However, one Arian scripture has miraculously survived centuries of religious fanaticism, namely the Gothic Bible or the Wulfila Bible, which is a Bible translated from Greek into Gothic in the fourth century by the Apostle of the Goths, Wulfila. It is translated fairly faithfully, but however most of the Old Testament is missing. We don't know why, maybe Arians put more emphasis on the New Testament, or the pages that contained the Old Testament have simply been lost.

An important reason why most Gothic peoples ceased to exist as a people must have been their Arian faith, which was considered outrageous heresy by the large Catholic majority of the countries they governed.

3. The Goths' Society

One of the Goths' great qualities was their strong leadership. Tacitus wrote in his description of the tribes of Germania: "Beyond the Lygians are the Goths, who are governed by their kings somewhat more strictly than the rest of the nations of Germania." Procopius stated, "One of their national virtues is faithfulness to their chosen leaders, even in adversity."

The Germanic states of the migration period have left behind many collections of laws, and from these it has been deduced that the Germanic nations, including the Goths, were basically divided into three castes: Free men, freedmen and thralls. Their status was generally hereditary, and it was forbidden to marry outside one's status. A very similar conclusion can be drawn from a close reading of Procopius's books on the Gothic War, as Peter Heather has done. The three castes in the Goths' society may remind something of the conditions in the countryside in Denmark more than a hundred years ago, where there were three informal ranks, namely farmers, husbandmen and farm workers.

The free men were the elite troops of the army and the backbone of society. Compared to the group of nobles of later times, the group of free men was relatively numerous. Some freemen were probably richer than others, some belonged to famous families and others were upstarts, some enjoyed royal favor more than others, but by all accounts they were equal before the law. ​

A traditional Gothic village may have looked like this..

Several hundred years later, Adam of Bremen tells of the Saxons: "By taking very careful care of their descent and nobility, and by not readily defiling themselves by marriages with foreigners or with inferior peoples, they have sought to make their people distinctive, pure and only alike themselves. That is why the appearance, body size and hair color are almost the same on all of them, despite the population being as large as it is. The people consist of four different classes, namely the nobles, the freeborn, the freedmen and the slaves. And it is established by law that none of them may go beyond the bounds of his own group in marriage, but a noble may only marry a noble woman, and a freeborn a freeborn woman, a freedman may marry only a freedwoman and a thrallman a thrallwoman. But if any of them marries a wife, who is not his equal or superior in descent, he shall pay the loss of his life."

The freedmen were expected to fight in the army led by the free warrior and peasant to whom they were attached. There is little evidence of upward career opportunities for the class of freemen, but one can imagine that there may have been exceptionally during periods when the army suffered heavy losses. An elaborate public ceremony was required for someone to be admitted to a higher status.

Free and freedmen could lose their status for crimes and be reduced to thralldom. Tacitus says that they could even lose their freedom by losing in a dicegame.

The conditions of the thralls is very well illustrated by the account of Wulfila, the apostle of the Goths.

In the third century, the Goths on the Black Sea coast made many voyages across the sea to, among other places, Asia Minor, where they abducted thousands of people as slaves and took them back to the Gothic areas in southern Ukraine and Romania. Among these slaves were Wulfila's parents.

His name "Little Ulf" is clearly Gothic, indicating that the abductees acquired Gothic language and culture quite quickly. The fact that Wulfila translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic shows that he was fully familiar with the Gothic language. Greek was probably his mother tongue. It is said that the young Wulfila grew up as a kind of junior priest in the thralls' Christian congregation in the middle of the otherwise pagan Gothic society. The thralls from Asia Minor probably constituted a largely independent group of peasants, who were obliged to deliver a substantial part of their production to their Gothic masters, but were otherwise more or less left to their own devices.

It fits very well with Tacitus' description of the slaves' conditions with the Germans beyond the Rhine a few hundred years earlier: "For besides, their slaves - unlike ours - do not have specific tasks to perform in the master's household. For they are all masters of their own house and have own household. They are only required, like our tenants - to answer to the lord a certain measure of grain, cattle or cloth - and there is a limit to their obedience. The domestic duties are performed by the husband's wife and children. It is only rarely that they punish their slaves with whipping, prison, or labor."

In fact, the conditions of thralls among the Goths and among the Germans as a whole are reminiscent of those of the serf farmers of the Middle Ages, which probably in reality represent a very old institution.

Priscus at Dinner with Attila - Painted by Mor Than - Photo Wikipedia.

When the Greek Priscus was on a diplomatic mission to Attila in Pannonia, that is in Hungary, he met, to his great surprise, a countryman in the camp of the Huns. This one told Priscus that eight years earlier he had been a businessman in the city of Viminacium, where he had been married to a rich woman and had done well. But then the Huns came and burned the city down and destroyed everything. He was captured and enslaved. His owner tasked him to fight for the Huns against the Romans and the Akatziri tribe. He fought bravely and collected a large amount of booty, which he presented to his Hunnic owner, who then rewarded him with his freedom. Now he lived among the Huns as one of them with a Hunnish wife and children, and he was quite content with that.

Procopius wrote in his section on Justinian's wars in Persia, where the Heruli served in the emperor's army: "And the Persians, firing into the great masses of the enemy in the narrow opening, slew a great number without difficulty, and especially the Heruli, who as the first had attacked the enemy with Narses, and for the most part fought without protection. For the Heruls have neither helmet nor breast-plates, nor any other protective armour, except a shield and a thick jacket, which they bind about them before they go into battle. And indeed, Herul slaves go into battle even without a shield, and when they have proved themselves brave men in war, their masters will allow them to protect themselves in battle with shields. Such is the custom of the Heruls."

Huns and Heruls were probably not Goths nor Germans, but it is known that - at least the Huns - very quickly adopted Germanic customs, names and Germanic culture in general. It is quite conceivable that such an upward career for a slave could also have taken place among Goths and Germans in general. The very word "freed" also tells us that there were career opportunities, even for thralls. Some Germanic laws, however, stated that unfree men did not fight in the army, it is said.

Bernard Hill as King Theoden of Rohan in the film "The Return of the King" directed by Peter Jackson based on Tolkien's series of novels "The Lord of the Rings" - the people of Rohan are certainly inspired by the Goths, although the name itself, Rohan, can be associated with the Lombards, who however, were also a kind of Goths according to Procopius. Photo Wikipedia.

Procopius wrote in his account of the Gothic War, explaining the cause of the enmity between Theodahad and Amalasuntha: "But while these things were going on, as I have explained, Theodatus was summoned before Amalasuntha by many Tuscans, who declared that he had done violence against all the people of Tuscany, and without reason had seized their estates, taking not only all private estates, but especially those belonging to the royal household, which the Romans are accustomed to call "patrimonium."

It seems that the king's office was traditionally financed by the king having properties spread across the country.

For more than five hundred years, the Goths maintained their language and culture, even though they lived among peoples who spoke the world languages Greek and Latin. Isidore of Seville from around 600 AD wrote of the "barbaric murmur" of the Goths.

Around 550 AD wrote Jordanes of the long folk-songs of the Goths, which enumerated the deeds of the forefathers: "From thence the victors hastened to the farthest part of Scythia, which is near the Pontic Sea, so the story is generally told in their early songs in an almost historical manner." - "But he bade them call the rest of their race Capillati. This name the Goths accepted and highly esteemed, and they preserve it to this day in their songs." - "In earliest times they sang of the deeds of their ancestors in a series of songs accompanied by the Kithara, the songs of Erpa-marha, Anala, Fridi-garn, Widu-Gauja, and others whose fame among them is great; such heroes as admirers in antiquity repeated times boasted that they were not only demigods."

Goths liked beer and wine. Excavations of Gothic settlements in southern Ukraine and Romania are littered with sherds from Roman wine amphorae. In the sixth century, the Romans used the expression "biberunt ut gothi", "drinking like a Goth", for men who could drink a lot.

The Romans also believed that Goths could be quite loud. They had the expression "to shout like a Goth". In the "Life" of Saint Dositheus, who lived in Palestine about 540 AD the following passage is found: "Then he said to him, O foolish man, you shout like the Goths, for when they are angry and furious they shout. Therefore I said to you, take a piece of bread soaked in wine, for you shout like a goth"

4. The last Goths

Several modern European nations and landscapes have preserved the names of the original migratory peoples who settled there. France was founded by the Franks, the name Hungary contains the memory of the Huns, Burgundy recalls the Burgundians, Andalusia got its name from the Vandals, and Lombardy was the place where the Lombards settled. But few places bear the memory of the Goths, who were, however, the most numerous and famous of them all. However, Toulouse is said to be named by them as Tølløse.

The ruins of the Gothic fortress Mankup in Crimea - Photo Wikipedia.

But they have generously spread their genes throughout southern Europe and thereby contributed to Europeans looking the way they do.

Several authors have written about Eudoses and Heruli, who settled in the Crimea and from there organized seaborne raids into Asia Minor. However, it is not clear which ancient sources they rely on - but there is a quote from the contemporary anonymous "Periplus Ponti Euxini": "In the area from the Sindian bay (now Anapa) to the Pagrea bay (now Gelengik) there used to live people called Kerketa (circassians) or Toritæ, and now live the so-called Eudusians, who speak the Gothic or Tauric language". However, this describes a stretch of coast not in Crimea, but on the other side of the Kerch Strait.

However, the Goths in Crimea are apparently abundantly documented in another way. They may have been Eudose's, shall we say Eudoses Goths. They were not very numerous, but they lasted longer than the great gothic peoples.

Walafrid Strabo was a French monk who lived 808-849 AD. He mentioned that Goths, who spoke Teutonic still lived in the Balkans in his time and used the Gothic translation of the Bible.

Gothic cave village in Crimea - photo: Lonely Planet

In 1433 AD attacked troops from Genova the nation of Gothia in the Crimea, which was led by Prince Alexis. The war lasted until 1441 AD and Genoa captured some important port cities.

In 1436-37 AD an Italian, Iosafat Barbaro, visited the Crimea and noted: "Beyond the island of Capha, which lies on the great sea, is Gothia, and after that Alania, running parallel to the island towards Mocastro, as I have said before. The Goths speak German, which I know of a German, my servant, who was with me there, for they understood each other well enough, as we understand a Friulian or a Florentine." Other travelers do not mention the Goths, so perhaps it was only a minority in the Crimea who still spoke Gothic.

In 1446 AD the Ottoman Turks appeared for the first time off the coast of Crimea. In 1453, the Turks captured Constantinople, and dark clouds rose over all groups in the Crimea. In 1475 AD first the possessions of Genoa and later the nation of Gothia were conquered by the Turks. Laudivius da Vezzano wrote: "After the conquest of Caffa (Genoese) by the Turks, the Turks attacked the Goths, who live beyond the Danube, to take their fortified cities, and brought their army to these. However, the inhabitants of the city defended themselves every day more and more bravely, so that it was uncertain, who would be victorious. Now you know the result of the unhappy war which took place in the Tauric Peninsula (Crimea)."

A German "gun master", George of Nuremberg, who was a prisoner of the Turks for many years, also described the last battle of the Goths in the capital Theodoro in 1475 AD: "Then the Turks marched against the city of Santodero, where there were three kings and fifteen thousand men, old and young. But they could not take it and had to retreat with losses. So three months later they surrendered voluntarily. The Turks killed the kings and all the people."

Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq

The Flemish Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq was ambassador for the Holy Roman Empire in Constantinople 1560 - 1562 AD.

Matthias of Miechow from Krakow wrote in 1517 a description of Asian and European Sarmatians. He mentions that: "The Dukes of Mankup, being Goths in their origin and language, had only the fortress of Mankup left. - Then (after Muhammad's conquest of Caffa) he slew with the sword the two Dukes and brothers of Mankup, the only survivors of the Gothic race and language, the hope for the future of the Goths, and took possession of the fortress of Mankup. thus the Goths were completely exterminated".

In 1690, Kampfer wrote: "The language spoken in the peninsula of Crimea, or Taurica Chersonesus, in Asia, still preserves many German words, brought there, as it is supposed, by a colony of Goths who came to settle there about 850 after the Deluge. The late Mr. Busbeq, who had been Imperial Ambassador at the Ottoman Gate, collected and published a large number of these words in his fourth letter; and in my own travels through this country, I have noted many more."

The last known - and very uncertain - encounter with the Goths in the Crimea comes from the Archbishop of Mohilev, Stanislaw Bohusz Siestrzencewicz, who visited the Crimea around 1780 and noted that there were people whose language and customs differed greatly from their neighbors and who he concluded, had to be "the Goths".

5. Litteratur

Fourth Century Christianity Wisconsin Lutheran College.
'Forest people': The Goths in Transylvania Hungarian Electronic Library
Story of the Goths - by Henry Bradley Internet Archieve - Cornell University Library
Ulfillas Silver Bible The History of English Literature
The Byzantine Empire Charles William Chadwick Oman.
Procopius of Cæsarea - History of the Wars I and II - The Persian War Project Gutenberg.
Procopius of Cæsarea - History of the Wars III and IV - The Vandalic War Project Gutenberg.
Procopius of Cæsarea - History of the Wars V and VI - The Gothic War Project Gutenberg.
Procopius in seven volumes Internet Archieve
The story of the Goths, from the earliest times to the end of the Gothic dominion in Spain" by Henry Bradley Internet Archieve.
"History of the Franks" by Gregory of Tours Internet Archive
Visigothic Code Wikipedia
"Isidore of Seville's History of the Kings of the Goths, Vandals, and Suevi" - E.J. Brill Leiden.
"Adam af Bremen - De Hamburgske Ærkebispers Historie" - Skrifter udgivne af Selskabet til historiske kildeskrifters oversættelse elvte række 1-4 1930.
"The Fall of the Roman Empire - A new history" by Peter Heather - Pan Books.

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