- Oct 2018
1. it is not only Jordanes: According to Ammianus, Ermanaric was "a most warlike king" who eventually committed suicide, faced with the aggression of the Alani and of the Huns, who invaded his territories in the 370s. Ammianus says he "ruled over extensively wide and fertile regions"
"(p. 87) Were the Tervingi and Greuthungi the only Gothic political units to exist before the Hunnic invasions? Or, putting the same question a different way, did Ermenaric, king of the Greuthungi, rule all Goths who were not Tervingi?
(p.88) The Getica answers in the affirmative, and on the basis of Jordanes, Ermenaric is normally considered to have ruled ‘all the Scythian and German nations’ (23. 116–20). But this picture was built up from Ammianus’ brief account of the king, and is quite untrustworthy. When read without preconceptions derived from the Getica, Ammianus’ description of Ermenaric is decidedly vague. He is a ‘most warlike monarch’ who ruled ‘extensive and rich lands’ (31. 3. 1). He was clearly an important ruler, but it is difficult to say exactly how important. The question can perhaps be resolved using less direct evidence.
After the Hunnic invasions, as we have seen, at least two, and perhaps three major groups of Greuthungi threatened the Roman frontier at different moments. If Ermenaric ruled all these Greuthungi, the Huns must have fragmented his realm. This is not impossible, but Ammianus’ narrative suggests that all Ermenaric’s Goths crossed the Danube in 376 (31. 3. 1–3; 31. 4. 12; 31. 5. 12). Ammianus was concerned not with the Greuthungi per se, but with the build-up to Hadrianople, and may simply have ignored any split. He did, however, mention one among the Tervingi (31. 3. 8). In addition, other large Gothic groups also came into contact with the Roman empire in the seventy-five years after Ermenaric’s death (cf. p. 13).
If Ermenaric ruled all Goths except the Tervingi, these groups—or, at least, their ancestors—must have been his subjects (assuming that there was no Gothic population explosion). Put alongside the known groups of Greuthungi, the list which follows emphasizes exactly how large a realm encompassing all Goths, except the Tervingi, would have been. Within it would have been found the force of Alatheus and Saphrax (perhaps c. 10,000 men), Odotheus’ Greuthungi (of unknown but significant size), the ancestors of Radagaisus’ group (over 10,000 men), those of Theoderic Strabo’s followers (at least 10,000 men), those of the Amal-led Goths (c. 10,000 men), and various other units such as the Crimean Goths totalling perhaps another 10,000 men. These figures are rough approximations, but give an indication of the order of magnitude involved. To have combined them all, Ermenaric’s empire would have had to be enormous, with a potential (p.89) army of at least 60,000 men. Such an empire seems very unlikely; it would be much larger than any other known Gothic political unit, and would surely have made a much greater impact in our sources. At no great distance from the Roman frontier (Valens fought some Greuthungi in 369, AM 27. 5. 6), it would have been many times more powerful than the Tervingi, who caused Valens so much trouble (see below), and would surely have been the main object of Roman policy in the region. The Empire was much more concerned, however, with the Tervingi, so that we should probably envisage several smaller Gothic political units east of the Dniester.
There is a little more evidence in favour of this view. In 399, according to Claudian, ‘Ostrogoths mixed with Greuthungi’ inhabited Phrygia at the outbreak of Tribigild’s revolt (Eutr. 2. 153). It is impossible to know what precisely Claudian meant, but, at face value, he distinguishes Ostrogoth as a third category of Goth apart from Tervingi and Greuthungi. This would be fully in line with what we have already seen of the realignment that the Huns caused in Gothic society; we might envisage, for instance, that some of the ancestors of the Gothic groups of the fifth century were such Ostrogoths, but this is pure hypothesis. Russian archaeologists have also identified five Černjachov sites as political centres on the basis of size, fortification, and topography. It would be rash to declare these the capitals of politically autonomous areas, but this is quite possible. In any case, a realm uniting all Goths except the Tervingi would surely have left much more trace in the contemporary historical record."