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A valorous culture who regard the crucible of the battlefield as the true measure of a person, the Goths are nevertheless spiritual, venerating their traditions.

The precise origin of the Goths has not been clearly established. In around 550, Jordanes wrote that they came from Scandinavia—from what appears to be the island of Gotland or the south of Sweden—and that they had crossed the Baltic Sea a few centuries earlier to settle at the mouth of the Vistula river, in what is present-day Poland.

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They were absorbed into a vast coalition of different peoples and seem to have rapidly taken the helm. In the third century they launched raids from the Danube to the Balkans and into Asia Minor. They finally settled in the steppe region of modern-day Ukraine and Belarus, where, after a period of conflict with the Roman Empire, they divided into two groups: the Greuthungi and Thervingi, later known as the Ostrogoths and Visigoths (in other words, the eastern and western Goths respectively). Due to pressure from the Huns, the Gothic kingdom of Ermanaric collapsed in 375. The Ostrogoths were subjugated by the Huns, while the Visigoths sought refuge in Thrace. Following a rebellion, the latter defeated the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens in Adrianople in 378 CE and thereafter negotiated the right to remain in the Balkans. But, after sacking the region in 401, they moved into Italy and sacked Rome in 410. A few decades later they founded a great kingdom based around Aquitania and then Spain, while the Ostrogoths, independent once more, took control of Italy. Initially, therefore, the Goths constituted a small ethnic group. The term later came to mean a federation of tribes, and finally an elite warrior class commanding the Visigothic and Ostrogothic kingdoms.

Did you know?

Though used to describe a type of medieval architecture, the adjective “gothic” only appeared in the artistic lexicon in the 16th century. Referring to the sacking of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths, it was used pejoratively by artists of the Italian Renaissance to describe art that they considered unrefined and barbaric in contrast to Classical art, from which they considered their art to be descended.