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Old April 16th, 2011, 06:17 AM   #1

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On Visigoths and Ostrogoths


A number of older works - my high-school history text book, for example - recognize a sharp division between the Gothic people. The Visigoths, "West Goths", who sacked Rome in 410 before eventually forming a tumultuous kingdom in Spain; and the Ostrogoths, "East Goths" who served under Attila before going on to turn Italy into their kingdom for the next century.

When and where did these distinctions of "Visigoth" and "Ostrogoth" begin? Are they modern in origin, or did the Goths themselves recognize these names? Did these divisions of Goths have seperate cultural or linguistic traits?
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Old April 16th, 2011, 06:55 AM   #2

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Originally Posted by Salah ad-Din View Post
A number of older works - my high-school history text book, for example - recognize a sharp division between the Gothic people. The Visigoths, "West Goths", who sacked Rome in 410 before eventually forming a tumultuous kingdom in Spain; and the Ostrogoths, "East Goths" who served under Attila before going on to turn Italy into their kingdom for the next century.

When and where did these distinctions of "Visigoth" and "Ostrogoth" begin? Are they modern in origin, or did the Goths themselves recognize these names? Did these divisions of Goths have seperate cultural or linguistic traits?
No, Ostrogoths does not mean East Goths, and Wisigoths does not mean west-Goths. In any case a rivaling etymology claims more likely wisi - sage (compare "wise") and ostro - brilliant. Austro has been interpreted as "of the rising sun", but as said according to some, the "shining" or "brilliant".
Wisigoths - Wikipédia
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Old April 16th, 2011, 06:57 AM   #3

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No, Ostrogoths does not mean East Goths, and Wisigoths does not mean west-Goths.
Further proof that some of my first history books were inaccurate
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Old April 16th, 2011, 07:02 AM   #4

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There are different names for Goths. The oldest is those of the Terwingi, from 291. The term Vesi is from 391/4. Ammianus marcellinus reports Greutungi at 369, but he wrote after 392. The name Ostrogothi is from 399.

Vesi means perhaps, "the noble, the good ones", Ostrogothi means "sunrise goths" so east goths is not completely wrong. Terwingi shall mean "Forest people", while Greutuingi shall mean "steppe people"

The culture of the Ostrogothi is the Cernjachov-culture or exactly they dominated these culture, while the Visigothi are connected with the Sintana-de-Mures culture.
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Old April 16th, 2011, 07:03 AM   #5
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WOW!!! A PhD dissertation (or two, or ten or twenty).

Fascinating stuff. I think recent historians of antiquity (Europe) have been overdoing the ethnography and "ethnogenesis" themes. We can only assume most of this, even from the archaeology.

Zosimus IIRC, and more certainly Ammianus Marcellinus understood Barbarian peoples in terms of gens, or clans grouped together by some common descent.

Herwig Wolfram tends to divide the broad groupings of clans into tribal identities depending mostly on their last known origins. I.e., the "west Goths" came to Roman attention as "forest people" from west of the Steppes. The broad clan grouping known by the name Tervingi eventually became known as Vesi or Visigothi.

The "east Goths" came from the steppes north of the Black Sea, being a clan grouping known as Geutrungi (no clue where that came from). They were Goths "glorified by the rising sun," according to Wolfram. The sun rises in the east, so - Ostrogothi.

When such a division may have been recognized is an open question. These broad Barbarian tribal identities were known in the third century by a number of different names, but they were all still considered Scythians AFAIK - they were too far from the Limes Germanicus at that time I suppose. It seems that once they were all more or less inside the Empire, they were just known as Goths for some time.

Salah, I wish I knew more about the cultural evidence in the recent archaeology, but I am too far along in life to pick up another complex interest. It seems from historians Guy Halsall and Peter Heather, who both claim some archaeological understanding, that there is much data from recent decades of excavation and analysis. I suppose you can read their work and see if you agree.

Whatever any of us think we know about the Goths, a great deal of it is still going to be conjecture. They had runes, I think, but that sort of evidence is not really a record of anything, and using it as such is problematical at best. otherwise, they left no written record of their own until Ulfilas. As we all understand, Christian sources of the time concentrate mostly on the miracles of conversion, etc.

What we do know and understand is that these people were tough and impressive. They were adaptable and obviously intelligent within their limits. (The tough part was more useful when they wanted to make a statement to Roman authority.)

Their arrival on the historical radar trumps the Huns any way you want to analyze it.

You could discuss this forever and in dozens of directions if you want an academic career.

Last edited by pikeshot1600; April 16th, 2011 at 07:13 AM.
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Old April 16th, 2011, 07:04 AM   #6

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Originally Posted by Salah ad-Din View Post
Further proof that some of my first history books were inaccurate
Later that meaning became prevalent, 'though, as the Wisi and Ostro goths were West and East of each other, being perfectly Goth at that.
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