11133Re: [gothic-l] Epithets used for Theodosius, for Constantinople, etc.
- Dec 18, 2013The term `Goths` is used inconsistently not only in the ancient sources but also in much secondary literature. One needs to distinguish between:
1) Goths as speakers of the Gothic language
2) Goths as an ethnic group
3) Goths as an army
4) Goths as a political entity
As to number 3, polyethnic armies were common in the ancient world; even the Roman army regularly availed itself of barbarians as auxiliaries. A Gothic-led force would naturally be called a 'Gothic' army, just as the 'English' army that found against the rebel 'Scots' in 1745 was so-called even though it included Scots, while the rebel 'Scots' were led by an Italian-born Englishman Prince Charlie. But it would be misleading to equate an army with a people. Different groups can be allied for the purposes of a specific war and then be disbanded, as the various allied powers did in the Thirty Years War or the Second World War. Indeed, the Vandals and Alans, onetime allies, turned against other in Spain.
As to number 4, it is incontrovertible that the Visigothic kingdoms of Toulouse, Spain, as well as the Ostrogothic Italian kingdom were polyethnic political entities. We know very little about the nature of the Pre-Hunnic Gothic kingdoms in eastern Europe. But the ancient sources speak of the Goths as a separate entity even when Italy was 'Gothic'. In the case of the Toulouse kingdom, we know that according to Alaric's law-code the Breviarium Alaricianum, intermarriage between Goths and Romans was forbidden by law. Mixed marriages were clearly possible with aristocrats, presumably in order to further personal ambitions, but this is hardly different from other periods: the last Kaiser of Germany was related to the king of England and the Czar of Russia. But it would hardly fit the facts to claim that because many of the royals in eighteenth and nineteenth-century England were German or part German, England must have been a society with an marked admixture of Germans.
Ultimately, we know very little about who the Goths were, and scientific rigour in discussions of Gothic ethnicity demands that this fact be acknowledged, notwithstanding the current fashion in academic circles of stating categorically that the 'Goths' (in what sense? in what place? in what timeframe?) were a polyethnic group.
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