Ancient History

Who were the Goths?
Answered by Craig C. Freudenrich and Discovery Channel
  • Craig C. Freudenrich

    Craig C. Freudenrich

  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Goth is short for Visigoth, a member of the Germanic tribes that settled in Dacia (ancient Romania) around A.D. 271, after the Romans abandoned the territory. The Romans had wiped out the Dacians in 101-106 under Emperor Trajan and settled the area. The Goths lived in Dacia and along the Black Sea where they prospered until about 375. At this time, the Huns were expanding from the east and drove the Goths from their villages. The Goths fled across the Danube River into Roman territory and became refugees. The Roman army kept them in refugee camps under horrible living conditions.

    A future leader of the Visigoths had been born just before the Hun expansion; his name was Alaric. He grew up in the refugee camps and, like many barbarians, joined the Roman Army. Alaric became a leader of Gothic troops within the Roman army. The Gothic army fought for the Eastern Roman empire and invaded Greece in 397. Alaric rose through the ranks of Roman politics in the Eastern Roman Empire.

    Alaric wanted the Visigoths to be a part of the Roman Empire and settle in one of its provinces. Sensing that the Western Roman Empire was weakening, Alaric led the Goths through the Alps and into Italy in 401. Over the next 7 years, Alaric plundered the Italian countryside and laid siege to the city of Rome in 408. Rome's Emperor Honorius paid the Goths to leave the city. Between 408 and 410, Alaric tried to negotiate with Honorius to allow the Goths to settle in the Danube region and for Rome to supply them with corn from North Africa. In exchange, Alaric would return the gold that Honorius had paid. Honorius refused his offer.

    In 410, Alaric's Gothic army sacked the city of Rome, which had already been weakened by famine and an insufficient military defense. The Goths plundered the city for three days. There was no food in the city, however, so they left and moved southward. Days later, Alaric fell ill and died. After the sack, the city of Rome survived, but the Western Roman Empire had virtually crumbled.

    One of Alaric's successors, Wallia, made peace with Honorius in 417. Honorius granted them the Aquitaine region of Gaul, which is roughly modern-day France and other small parts of Europe. The Visigoths became independent allies of the Roman Empire. Wallia chose Toulouse, France, for his capital. The Christian Visigoth kingdom eventually contributed to mainstream European culture after the decline of Roman influence.

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  2. When you hear the word "goth" you might conjure up an image of someone clad head-to-toe in black period-inspired fashion, heavy makeup, dark nail polish and dyed black hair. But the members of the subculture inspired by the post-punk movement aren't the true Goths-- although they would likely appreciate the architecture associated with the Gothic period during the Middle Ages. The true Goths were a Germanic people who repeatedly attacked the Roman Empire in the third century until finally gaining settlement in Dacia (ancient Romania) in 271 A.D.

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