( ) were one of two main branches of
, an East Germanic tribe
; the Ostrogoths
being the other. Together these tribes
were among the barbarians
the late Roman Empire
. The romanized
Visigoths first emerged as a distinct
people during the fourth century, initially in the Balkans
, where they participated in several wars
with Rome. A Visigothic army under Alaric I
eventually moved into Italy and famously sacked Rome in 410
Eventually the Visigoths were settled in southern Gaul
the Romans, the reasons for which are still subjects for debate
among scholars. They soon fell out with their hosts and
established their own kingdom with its capital at Toulouse.
slowly extended their authority into Hispania
, displacing the Vandals
. Their rule
in Gaul was cut short in 507 at the Battle of Vouillé
, when they were
defeated by the Franks
under Clovis I
. Thereafter the only territory north of the
Pyrenees that the
Visigoths held was Septimania and their kingdom was limited to Hispania, which
came completely under the control of their small governing elite,
at the expense of the Byzantine
province of Spania and the Suebic Kingdom of
In or around 589, the Visigoths, under Reccared I
, formerly Arians
, converted to the Nicene faith
. In their kingdom, the century
that followed was dominated by the Councils of Toledo
and the episcopacy.
Historical sources for the seventh century are relatively sparse.
In 711 or 712 the Visigoths, including their king and many of their
leading men, were killed in the Battle of Guadalete
by a force of
invading Arabs and
. The kingdom quickly collapsed thereafter, a phenomenon
which has led to much debate among scholars concerning its causes.
Gothic identity survived the fall of the kingdom, however,
especially in the Kingdom of
and the Marca
remains of the Visigoths in Spain and Portugal there are
several churches and an increasing number of archaeological finds,
but most notably a large number of Spanish, Portuguese, and other Romance language given names and
The Visigoths were the only people to found new
cities in western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire and
before the rise of the Carolingians
Late Middle Ages, the greatest
Visigothic legacy, which is no longer in use, was their law code,
the Liber iudiciorum,
which formed the basis for legal procedure in most of Christian
centuries after their kingdom's demise.
Division of the Goths: Tervingi and Vesi
The division of the Goths is first attested in 291. The Tervingi
are first attested around that date; the
, Ostrogothi, and Vesi are all
attested no earlier than 388. The first mention of the Tervingi occurs in a
eulogy of the emperor Maximian (285–305), delivered in or shortly after
291 (perhaps at Trier on 20 April
292) and traditionally ascribed to Claudius Mamertinus, which says that the
"Tervingi, another division of the Goths" (Tervingi pars alia
Gothorum) joined with the Taifali to
attack the Vandals and Gepidae.
The term "Vandals" may have been
erroneous for "Victohali
", for around 360
the historian Eutropius
was currently (nunc
by Taifali, Victohali, and Tervingi.
According to the interpretation of Herwig
, the Notitia Dignitatum
equates the Vesi with
the Tervingi in a reference to the years 388–391. The Greuthungi
are first named by Ammianus
, writing no earlier than 392 and perhaps later than
395, and basing his account of the words of a Tervingian chieftain
who is attested as early as 376. The Ostrogoths are first named in a
document dated September 392 from Milan.
mentions that they, together with
, inhabit Phrygia
According to Wolfram, the primary sources either use the
terminology of Tervingi/Greuthungi or Vesi/Ostrogothi and never mix
the pairs. All four names were used together on occasion, but the
pairing was always preserved, as in Gruthungi, Austrogothi,
. That the Tervingi were the same people as the
Vesi/Visigothi and the Greuthungi as the Ostrogothi is also
supported by Jordanes
. He identified the
Visigothic kings from Alaric I
to Alaric II
as the heirs of the fourth-century
Tervingian king Athanaric
Ostrogothic kings from Theodoric the
as the heirs of the
Greuthungian king Ermanaric
interpretation, the most common among scholars today, is not
Herwig Wolfram concludes that the terms Tervingi and Greuthungi
were geographical identifiers used by each tribe to describe the
other. This terminology therefore dropped out of use after the
Goths were displaced by the Hunnic
. In support of this, Wolfram cites Zosimus
as referring to a group of "Scythians" north
of the Danube
who were called "Greutungi" by
the barbarians north of the Ister
concludes that this people were those Tervingi who had remained
behind after the Hunnic conquest. On the other hand, he argues, the
terms "Vesi" and "Ostrogothi" were used by the peoples to
boastfully describe themselves.
The nomenclature of Greuthungi/Tervingi fell out of use shortly
after 400. In general, the terminology of a divided Gothic people
disappeared gradually after they entered the Roman Empire. The last
indication that the Goths whose king reigned at Toulouse considered
themselves Vesi is found in a panegyric
by Sidonius Apollinaris
dated 1 January
456. The term "Visigoth", however, was an invention of the sixth
century. Most recent scholars (notably Peter Heather
) argue that Visigothic group
identity emerged only within the Roman Empire. Roger Collins
believes the Visigoths were a
creation of the Gothic War of
and began as a collection of foederati
(Wolfram's "federate armies") under
Alaric I in the eastern Balkans
, composed of
largely Tervingi with Greuthungian and other barbarian contingents.
They were thus multiethnic and cannot lay claim to an exclusively
Tervingian heritage. Collins points out that no contemporaries
directly link the Tervingi and Vesi.
, a Roman in the service of
Theodoric the Great, invented the term "Visigothi" to match that of
"Ostrogothi", which terms he thought of as signifying "western
Goths" and "eastern Goths" respectively. The western–eastern
division was a simplification (and a literary device) of
sixth-century historians. Political realities were more complex.
Further, Cassiodorus used the term "Goths" to refer only to the
Ostrogoths, whom he served, and reserved the geographical term
"Visigoths" for the Gallo-Spanish Goths. This usage, however, was
adopted by the Visigoths themselves in their communications with
the Byzantine Empire
and was in use
in the seventh century.
Other names for other Gothic divisions abounded. A "Germanic"
Byzantine or Italian author referred to one of the two peoples as
, meaning "Roman Goths", and in 469 the
Visigoths were called the "Alaric Goths".
Etymology of Tervingi and Vesi/Visigothi
The name "Tervingi" may mean "forest people". This is supported by
evidence that geographic descriptors were commonly used to
distinguish people living north of the Black Sea both before and
after Gothic settlement there, by evidence of forest-related names
among the Tervingi, and by the lack of evidence for an earlier date
for the name pair Tervingi–Greuthungi than the late third century.
That the name "Tervingi" has pre-Pontic, possibly Scandinavian,
origins still has support today.
The Visigoths are called Wesi
by Trebellius Pollio
, Claudian, and Sidonius
Apollinaris. The words may be Gothic
ones meaning "the good or noble people", similar to Gothic
, "better". W. H. Stevenson remarks that the term
seems to be the Germanic representative of Indo-European *wesu-s
comparing Sanskrit vásu-ş
Jordanes refers to a river which gave its name to the Vesi, this is
probably just legend, like his similar story about the Greuthung
name. The name "Visigothi" is an invention of Cassiodorus, who
combined "Visi" and "Gothi" and intended to mean "west
Migrations of the main column of the Visigoths
War with Rome (376–382)
The Goths remained in Dacia until 376
, when one
of their leaders, Fritigern
, appealed to
the Roman emperor Valens
to be allowed to
settle with his people on the south bank of the Danube
. Here, they hoped to find refuge from
. Valens permitted this, as he saw in
them "a splendid recruiting ground for his army." However, a
broke out and Rome was unwilling to
supply them with the food they were promised nor the land; open
revolt ensued leading to 6 years of plundering and destruction
throughout the Balkans, the death of a Roman Emperor and the
destruction of an entire Roman army.
Adrianople in 378 was the decisive moment of the war.
The Roman forces were slaughtered and the Emperor Valens
was killed during the fighting. Adrianople
shocked the Roman world and eventually forced the Romans to
negotiate with and settle the barbarians within the empire's
boundaries, a development with far reaching consequences for the
eventual fall of
Reign of Alaric I
The new emperor, Theodosius I
peace with the rebels, and this peace held essentially unbroken
until Theodosius died in 395
. In that year, the
Visigoths' most famous king, Alaric I
the throne, while Theodosius was succeeded by his incapable sons:
in the east and Honorius
in the west.
Over the next 15 years, an uneasy peace was broken by occasional
conflicts between Alaric and the powerful Germanic generals who
commanded the Roman armies in the east and west, wielding the real
power of the empire. Finally, after the western general Stilicho
was executed by Honorius in 408
and the Roman legions massacred the families of
30,000 barbarian soldiers serving in the Roman army, Alaric
declared war. After two defeats in Northern Italy and a siege of
Rome ended by a negotiated pay-off, Alaric was cheated by another
Roman faction. He resolved to cut the city off by capturing its
port. On August 24, 410, however, Alaric's troops entered Rome
through the Salarian Gate
, to plunder
its riches in the sack of Rome
was no longer the official capital of the Western Roman Empire (it
had been moved to Ravenna for
strategic reasons), its fall severely shook the empire's
Greatest extent of the Visigothic
kingdom of Toulouse, c.
The Visigothic Kingdom was a Western European power in the 5th to
7th centuries, created in Gaul when the Romans lost their control
of their empire. In response to the invasion of Roman Hispania
, the emperor in the West,
enlisted the aid of the Visigoths to regain control of the
territory. In 418
, Honorius rewarded his
by giving them land
in Gallia Aquitania
on which to
settle. This was probably done under hospitalitas
rules for billeting army soldiers. The settlement formed the nucleus of the
future Visigothic kingdom that would eventually expand across the
Pyrenees and onto the
The Visigoths' second great king, Euric
unified the various quarreling factions among the Visigoths and, in
, forced the Roman government to grant them
full independence. At his death, the Visigoths were the most
powerful of the successor states to the Western Roman Empire.
Visigoths also became the dominant power in the Iberian
Peninsula, quickly crushing the Alans
and forcing the Vandals into north Africa. By 500, the Visigothic Kingdom, centred at Toulouse, controlled Aquitania and Gallia Narbonensis and most of Hispania
with the exception of the Suevic kingdom in the northwest
and small areas controlled by the Basques and Cantabrians.
However, in 507, the Franks
under Clovis I defeated the Visigoths in the Vouillé
and wrested control of Aquitaine.
King Alaric II
was killed in battle.
Alaric's death, Visigothic nobles spirited his heir, the child-king
Amalaric, first to Narbonne, which was the last Gothic outpost in Gaul, and
further across the Pyrenees into Hispania. The center of
Visigothic rule shifted first to Barcelona, then inland and south to Toledo.
, the Visigoths
were ruled by Theodoric the
of the Ostrogoths as de jure
regent for the
, Granada and southernmost Hispania Baetica
were lost to
representatives of the Byzantine
(to form the province of Spania
who had been invited in to help settle a Visigothic dynastic
struggle, but who stayed on, as a hoped-for spearhead to a
"Reconquest" of the far west envisaged by emperor Justinian I
Visigothic Hispania and its regional
divisions in 700, prior to the Muslim conquest.
The last Arian Visigothic king, Liuvigild
conquered the Suevic kingdom in 585
and most of
the northern regions (Cantabria) in 574
regained part of the southern areas lost to the Byzantines
, which King Suintila
reconquered completely in 624
. The kingdom survived until 711
when King Roderic
(Rodrigo) was killed while
opposing an invasion from the south by the Umayyad Muslims
Battle of Guadalete
on July 19
. This marked the beginning of the Muslim conquest of Hispania
which most of the peninsula came under Islamic
rule by 718
A Visigothic nobleman, Pelayo
is credited with beginning the Christian Reconquista
of Iberia in 718
, when he defeated the Umayyads
and established the Kingdom of Asturias
in the northern part
of the peninsula. Other Visigoths, refusing to adopt the Muslim
faith or live under their rule, fled north to the kingdom of the
, and Visigoths played key roles in the
empire of Charlemagne
a few generations
During their long reign in Spain, the Visigoths were responsible
for the only new
cities founded in Western Europe between the fifth and eighth
. It is certain (through contemporary Spanish
accounts) that they founded four: Reccopolis, Victoriacum, Luceo, and Olite. There is also a
possible fifth city ascribed to them by a later Arabic source:
Baiyara (perhaps modern Montoro).
All of these cities were founded for
military purposes and three of them in celebration of
There was a religious gulf between the Visigoths, who had for a
long time adhered to Arianism
, and their
Catholic subjects in Hispania. The Iberian Visigoths continued to
be Arians until 589
. For the role of Arianism in
Visigothic kingship, see the entry for Liuvigild
There were also deep sectarian splits among the Catholic population
of the peninsula. The ascetic Priscillian of Avila
by orthodox Catholic forces in 385
, before the Visigothic period, and the persecution
continued in subsequent generations as "Priscillianist" heretics
were rooted out. At the very beginning
of Leo I's pontificate, in the years
444–447, Turribius, bishop of
Astorga in León, sent to Rome a memorandum warning that
Priscillianism was by no means dead, reporting that it numbered
even bishops among its supporters, and asking the aid of the
The distance was
insurmountable in the 5th century. Nevertheless Leo intervened, by
forwarding a set of propositions that each bishop was required to
sign: all did. But if Priscillianist bishops hesitated to be barred
from their sees, a passionately concerned segment of Christian
communities in Iberia were disaffected from the more orthodox
hierarchy and welcomed the tolerant Arian Visigoths. The Visigoths
scorned to interfere among Catholics but were interested in decorum
and public order.
Visigoths were also tolerant of Jews, a
tradition that lingered in post-Visigothic Septimania, exemplified by the career of Ferreol, Bishop of Uzès (died
In 589, King Reccared
converted his people
to Catholicism. With the Catholicization of the Visigothic kings,
the Catholic bishops increased in power, until, at the Fourth Council of Toledo
, they took upon themselves the nobles' right
to select a king from among the royal family. Visigothic
persecution of Jews began after the conversion to Catholicism of
the Visigothic king Reccared
. In 633
the same synod
bishops that usurped the Visigothic nobles' right to confirm the
election of a king declared that all Jews must be baptised
In the eighth through eleventh centuries the muwallad
clan of the Banū Qāsī
claimed descent from the
Visigothic Count Cassius
Visigothic Code of Law (forum
judicum), which had been part of aristocratic oral tradition, was set in writing
in the early 7th century— and survives in two separate codices preserved at the Escorial.
It goes into more detail than a modern
constitution commonly does and reveals a great deal about
Visigothic social structure.
Art and architecture
Kings of the Visigoths
These kings and leaders, with the exception of Fritigern, and the
possible exception of Alavivus, were pagans.
These kings were Arianist
(followers of the
theological teaching of Arius
). They tended to
succeed their fathers or close relatives on the throne and thus
constitute a dynasty.
The Visigothic monarchy took on a completely elective character
with the fall of the Balti, but the monarchy remained Arian until
Reccared converted in 587. Only a few sons succeeded their fathers
to the throne in this period.
- Theudis (531–548)
- Theudigisel (548–549)
- Agila I (549–554)
- Athanagild (554–568)
- Liuva I (568–572), only ruled in Narbonensis from 569
- Liuvigild (569–586), ruled only south of the
Pyrenees until 572
- Reccared I (580–601), son, sub-king in
Narbonensis until 586, first Catholic king
- Liuva II (601–603), son
- Witteric (603–610)
- Gundemar (610–612)
- Sisebut (612–621)
- Reccared II (621), son
- Suintila (621–631)
- Sisenand (631–636)
- Chintila (636–640)
- Tulga (640–641)
- Chindasuinth (641–653)
- Recceswinth (649–672), son, initially co-king
- Wamba (672–680)
- Erwig (680–687)
- Egica (687–702)
- Wittiza (694–710), son, initially co-king or sub-king in
- Roderic (710–711), only in Lusitania and Carthaginiensis
- Agila II (711–714), only in Tarraconensis and
- Oppas (712), perhaps in
opposition to Roderic and Agila II
- Ardo (714–721), only in Narbonensis
During the dictatorship of Francisco
, the list of Visigothic kings was memorised recited in
Spanish public schools.
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