rom the time of the Goths’ Eighth Century disappearance from the European
political landscape, at least in terms of an ethnic or political entity, there
has never been agreement among writers on the issue of their origin as a people.
As the author of a collection of songs and poems about them, I thought it advisable
to research as thoroughly as possible the continuing dissonance amongst academicians,
and then try to synthesize a probable scenario that would not have embarrassed
or outraged the protagonists themselves.
Accordingly, I made every effort to stay within the bounds of known or
reckoned accuracy in telling the 700-year story of the Goths from their own
The following notes accompanying Chapter One comprise a brief review
of the evidentiary corpus I visited while writing Children of the Storm. These
materials fall into several categories respecting the early history of the
click on the picture to read about the book published April 2009.
I. Earliest Mentions:
The first Roman scholar to name the Goths was Strabo after general Germanicus’
victory over the Germanic chieftain Marbod in
16 AD. In the end of the 1st Century AD, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus described the Gotones as “immediately
adjoining the Rugians and Lemonians on the coast of the ocean ... next are
the communities of the Suiones, situated in the ocean itself.” Next, the Greco-Roman
geographer Ptolemy (ca. 150 AD) said that “... the Goutai are on the large island
of Scandia, opposite the mouth of the Vistula.” That tribe is generally interpreted
as being the Gutar XE “Gutar” and/or Gautar, living on the Scandinavian (pen)insula and Gotland. The Gudones
or Gutones he places near the same location as Tacitus would have them.
A historical document from Gotland actually recounts the history of the
Goths, i.e., “The Gutasaga”. Although written in the Gutnisk language of
Gotland of the 12th Century AD, it recounts the story taking place many hundreds
of years earlier of the Goths having settled the island, then overpopulating
it and forcing many of its inhabitants to leave.
According to the saga, those who abandoned the island sailed away in
three ships to the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, i.e., now northern Poland,
where they settled. The saga further informs us that, a few generations thereafter,
the Goths migrated down the Danube River to Russia (now Ukraine), where they
encountered the “Greek King” (Byzantine Empire), and once more settled. The
Gutasaga closes that chapter by stating that “they (the southern Goths) still
maintain something of our language.”
The role of the original Goths in leading a powerful new religion or
cultic league (Ing, freyr, Odin and Thor) is also recorded in an early Anglo-Saxon
Rune Poem, which states that
Ing was first among the East Danes
Seen, they say, until he went east
Over the waves; the wagons followed…
Further, a massive runestone from the 8th Century AD called the Röksten was found in Sweden in the Nineteenth Century helping shore up the foundation
of a church. It features vignettes from early Gothic and Norse history. It
refers to Theodoric the Great, Ostrogothic King of Italy 494–526 AD, in a rather
The bravest of warriors, the prince of storm-raiders,
Across the shores of the
Now he sits, armed, upon his Gothic stallion,
His shield upon his shoulder,
Hero of the outland Goths.
History also reveals that a statue of Theodoric the Great, once a feature
of Ravenna, Italy, his capitol city, was dismantled and taken to Aachen, Germany,
by the Holy Roman Emperor Karl der Große (Charlemagne) in the early Ninth
Likewise, an Old English poem, “Deor”, probably written in the early
Eighth Century AD, referred to the same Gothic king:
Theodoric owned for thirty years
The most famous of castles:
Many (of us) knew of him.
That same poem, Deor, also contained a verse telling the tragic fate
of an earlier Gothic king, Armenareiks, who was defeated by the Huns.
The exploits and history of the Goths were covered in detail in the Getica,
written by the Gotho-Roman historian Jordanes around 552 AD. Most of the
controversy surrounding the origin of the Goths arises from diverging assessments
of his book, discussed in the notes following succeeding chapters, infra.
However, the earliest sources available inform us that the Germanic world
was very familiar with the Goths, their origin and earliest activities.
Recent archaeology in Poland, Sweden, Denmark and other regions has been
a tremendous boon in deciphering the true nature and development of the Gothic
peoples. Ironically, the voluminous and active sources of new information and
materials in the archaeological realm are mostly the result of “Rescue Archaeology”,
wherein archaeologists hasten to certain sites to rescue buried vestiges and
even entire village of history, before bulldozers destroy critical sites and
otherwise impede archaeological and anthropological progress. In this specific
case, rescue archaeology salvaged a large number of sites that lay directly
in the path of a series of natural gas pipelines being laid across the northern
Polish plain and branched into southwestern Sweden and parts of Denmark.
Facing the impending threat of losing the priceless archaeological remains
of villages, farms, fortresses and cemeteries of ancient European cultures
to the giant hoes, scoops and shovels of modern pipeline technology, Poland
formed a unique public-private partnership to save a major part of its heritage.
Calling together the Government, the EuRoPol GAZ Transit Corporation, and archaeologists
from several Polish universities and museums, both time and funding were budgeted
for the purpose of unearthing and collecting the cultural remains lying in
the pathway of the planned pipeline.
This enormous amount of “rescue archaeology”, hundreds of kilometers
in length and 14 to 20 meters in width, has uncovered over 800 villages and
cemeteries of the Celto-Germanic Late Bronze Age (called the La Tène Culture),
the early Roman Iron Age, and the Late Roman Iron Age across Poland. Those
ages correspond precisely to the centuries of Gothic presence on the European
stage. The digs are continuing to reveal — like a film documentary — the spectacle
of those people and the lives they experienced.
Roughly, we are concerned with the following Migration Period Cultures
in Poland, Sweden, Denmark and Pomerania:
Late La Tène
up to 100 AD
200 BC – 200 AD
200 BC – 100 AD
100 BC – 300 AD
50 AD – 250 AD
The excavations are yielding strong evidence that several similar cultures
had lived in the same region, changing by evolution and progress over the generations,
and punctuated by occasional migrations from without. One of the most influential
immigrations to that area, in terms of cultural and social change, was the
influx of new settlers from Gotland and Southern Sweden.
There was also an enormous cultic aspect to the nature of the Gothic
immigrants, as they evidently brought with them a new religion. It featured
the basic panoply of deities whom we know from later Norse sources, but in
time some names were changed as well as the function of some of the deities.
Gaut, the creator of humans, the tribal father, was later connected with the
continental newcomer Odinn. The god and goddess of ancestry, Ingr/Ingun, were
the predecessors of Freyr/Freya in the fertility cult and Úllr was later replaced
by Baldr in the Nordic pantheon.
The archaeological focus gives us convincing evidence of the origin of
“To the most important form of skeleton graves belong the
first log boat graves discovered on Polish territory. This custom was adopted
Whether any individual influx of newcomers was peaceful or warlike remains
uncertain. However, there is ample evidence that the predecessors of the Goths
were successful farmers, herdsmen, artisans and craftsmen, maintained strong
family ties and a succession of somewhat similar religions.
There is also evidence of an amalgamation of Celtic and Germanic societies
and cultural patterns. This amalgam would help explain the extensive use, in
the Gothic language, of everyday vocabulary for clothing, armaments and articles
of grooming and decoration borrowed from Celtic languages.
Then, in the early 1st Century AD, an upsurge of trade and of material
exchange occurred between southeastern Sweden, southern Denmark, and the northern
Polish Baltic Coast. New grave circles and inhumation burial rites appeared
in Poland, which had, up until that time, been an exclusive feature of the
Scandinavian Peninsula and surrounding islands.
But the parallel, pre-existing practice of cremation of the dead and
burial in clay jars continued in the new “Wielbark”culture long after the Scandinavian
influx took place. Thus, the Gothic culture was probably a synthesis of Celtic,
early Germanic, and Scandinavian influences.
With respect to Germanic languages, there was merely a dialectal divergence
or difference between them at the time of the Scandinavian influx of immigrants
onto the Polish plain. They had been drifting apart for only a matter of two
or three hundred years, and would have been over 95% mutually intelligible,
much as British English and American English are today — after a separation
of over two hundred years.
Finally, recent archeological discoveries also inform us that throughout
the 700-year adventure of the Goths, a flourishing trade in every sort of household
item: jewelry, clothing accessories, medallions, combs, fibulas, necklaces,
tools and weaponry took place from southern Scandinavia to northern Poland,
the Gothic settlements and nations on the shores of the Black Sea, modern-day
Romania and Bulgaria, and later Italy and Spain.
Gothic mercenaries in Roman armies were paid in “Solidi” and other Roman
coins, and dutifully sent them home to the North. Of the 7,000 or more such
coins found in northern Europe to date, over 80% were found on the Island
There is a considerable body of linguistic evidence linking the Gothic
language to Forngutnisk, or Old Gothic. The latter was spoken on the island
of Gotland during the ages that the Goths probably inhabited the island, the
region, and the northern Polish plain, from about 0 AD to about 200–220 AD.
It is during the period 220–230 AD when the Gothic tribes first began showing
up at the shores of the Black Sea.
Old Gutnisk sources cover a considerably large time period, from the
Roman Iron Age to the Late Middle Ages. Much of our knowledge of Old Gutnisk
comes from about 1000 to 1300 AD.
Indeed, the specific kinship between Old Gutnisk and Gothic are primarily
found in phonology and vocabulary. Here is a small sampling of words taken
from the Gothic Bible of Wulfila, the Gutasaga and the Gutnisk Laws of the
island of Gotland, modern Swedish and modern English to show the early closeness
and subsequent 2,000-year development of the languages.
do, cause (“gear”)
I (1st pers.sing)
Obviously, much of the phonological change which occurred between Gothic
and Old Gutnisk consisted of rhoticism, meaning that the letter “s” or “z”
in the original Gothic turned gradually into an “r” sound. This development
was shared by Old Norse and the modern Scandinavian languages generally.
Also, the definite articles (e.g., this, these, those) in Old Gutnisk
resembled the Gothic very closely in their case and gender inflections and
phonology. Moreover, the possessive adjectives (his, hers, mine, your, their,
its, etc.) were marked by a common peculiarity: those particles of speech followed the nouns they modified, for example, “friend his”, or “in heart her”, “father
our”. This is reflected in the Gothic usage in the poem, “Totila Rides the
Djerid” in the words, “gadrauhteis meineis”, meaning “my soldiers”.
There were other features shared by Gothic and Old Gutnisk, such as
preposed attributive adjectives,
a dative absolute formed by using the preposition “att” (English
‘at’) with a participle,
genitive phrases following the head noun,
verb placement within sentences.
When one combines the entire body of evidence now emerging, consisting
of recent and continuing archaeology, new linguistic data analysis and improved
anthropological and historical techniques, the conclusion is clearly justified
that there was a substantial South Scandinavian influence on the genesis of
Ptolemaios Geographia, 2.11.16; Strabo Geogr., IV.1.3; Cornelius
Tacitus Germania, 44.
Svante Fischer, The Continental Background of the Scandinavian Migration
Period Chamber Graves, Institutionen för arkeologi och antik historia, Uppsala
Universitet, Sverige, 2007.
Bengt Nordqvist, Nya rön om offerplatsen Finnestorp och exempel
på några av dess vetenskapliga konsekvenser, presented at Symposium Kult, Guld
och Makt, Källby, Sweden, 2006. Also see: Tomasz Skorupka, Where did the Goths
living on Polish Land come from? Poznan Archaeological Museum, Poznan, Poland,
Ingemar Nordgren, The Well Spring of the Goths: About the Gothic
Peoples in the Nordic Countries and on the Continent, Universe Publishing,
Inc., 2004, ISBN No. 0-595-33648-5.
Magda Natuniewicz-Sekula, Cmentarzysko ludności kultury wielbarskiej,
Archaeology and Ethnology Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences, 2005. Also
see Kaliff, Anders, Gothic Connections: Contacts Between Eastern Scandinavia
and the Southern Baltic Coast 1000 BC–500 AD. Occasional Papers in Archaeology
26, Uppsala University, Sweden, 2001.
Nordgren, op.cit. supra; Peter Heather, The Goths, Blackwell Publishing,
Malden, Mass., and Oxford, UK; 1998; Wolfgang Giese, Die Goten, Verlag W. Kohlhammer,
Stuttgart, 2004; Herwig Wolfram, History of the Goths, University of California
Michael Meier-Brügger, Indogermanische Sprachwissenschaft, 8.e Auflage,
de Gruyter Studienbuch, Berlin 2002, at pp. 36–40.
Svante Fischer, op. cit. supra, at Table 1.
Fischer, S., and Victor, H., Folksvandringstida kammargravar och
senromersk hovkultur, 2008, Uppsala Universitet, Sweden.