Goths/ Prestige of Scandinavia

X99Lynx at X99Lynx at
Tue Mar 13 05:04:29 UTC 2001

In a message dated 3/10/2001 4:28:01 AM, hwhatting at writes:
<< Generally, I accept that we cannot take the writing of the classical authors
without subjecting them to critique. And you argue quite convincing that we
cannot take the Scandinavian origin of the Goths for granted. But I'd like to
make the following points:
1) I do not see any special "prestige value" for the Goths in coming from
Scandinavia. In accordance to classical criteria, we would expect them to
show that they descend from Greeks or Troians, or from some prestigious
mythical personage, or to some other people known from antiquity. The link-up
and mix-up with the Getae you describe is much more in line with what we
would expect.>>

The "prestige value" of a Scandinavian origin was far greater than the
prestige in the other origin stories Jordanes admits hearing, including the
only one he repeats, that the Goths were once slaves among the British.
(B-T-W, there is something about this story that bears returning to at some
point for what it might be saying.)

We of course don't expect Jordanes to give these other stories a fair hearing
and somehow they have been lost to us.  But such stories, particularly in the
time of Theodoric, would certainly have to be countered.  in his single
volume abridgment of Cassiodorus' original 12 volume (yikes!) "Getica",
Jordanes does not seem that compelled to address these issues in detail.
Cassiodorus' lost work however may have had to, since Cassiodorus was
answering to Theodoric himself.

This is part of the problem with Jordanes' work.  It is an abridgment and
after-the-fact and may have been in the nature of a swan song when Gothic
origins were just barely still worth asserting by a now Catholic Goth writing
in Constantinople, but in Jordanes' later time the whole origin question was
losing relevance fast.  Cassiodorus, however, as a Roman patrician and a
member of Theodoric's Gothic-Roman court, was definitely faced in his time
with providing a lineage for the Gothic king and apparently won high praise
for finally doing so.

This rather striking fact is well-illustrated in an old note by Svante Norr
on ONN: <However, the "genetic link" might not be as deep as we wish to
believe. In a letter from Theodoric the Great's young successor Athalaric to
the Roman senate, Cassiodorus' genealogical accomplishments are praised
(Cassiodorus wrote the letter himself, doubtless with great pleasure, Variae
IX, 25, 4-5): "[Cassiodorus] extended his labour even to the ancient cradle
of our house, learning from his reading what the hoary recollections of our
elders scarcely preserved.  From the lurking place of antiquity he led out
the kings of the Goths, long hidden in oblivion. He restored the Amals, along
with the honour of their family, clearly proving me to be of royal stock to
the seventeenth generation." (Barnish ed.1992)

The important point here is that Cassiodorus claims to have based his
research on written (= classical) sources rather than Gothic oral tradition.
We also know that Tacitus's Germania was studied and much appreciated at
Theodoric's court (He is even said to have once reproached some visiting
Aesti on their ignorance of the work; Variae V, 2). The 'discovery' of a
people known as gothones up in the north must have appeared very palatable to
a king in search of an origin myth and a genealogy that would let his family
stand forth as a second gens Iulia and legitimate his rule before Goth and
Roman alike.

There are other theories about Jordanes' aims (see J.J. Donnely's on the web
somewhere), but they don't so much deal with "why Scandinavia?" possibly
because Jordanes was already given Scandinavia.  W. Goffart, The Narrators of
Barbarian History (1988) is often quoted for the theory that Jordanes was
writing more or less in order to counter Procopius' account of how Heruli
were successfully repatriated to the north, and meant to distinguish two
different types of Scandinavian origins and to point out that the Goths (as
Getae) were not such recent comers (like the Heruli) to Classical regions,
apparently even predating the Romans' advent in Italy.

Other factors that may have been involved was the presence of King Rodulf at
Theodoric's court.  Jordanes writes: [In Scandia there are also] "the
Grannii, Augandzi, Eunixi, Taetel, Rugi, Arochi and Ranii, over whom Roduulf
was king not many years ago. But he despised his own kingdom and fled to the
embrace of Theodoric, king of the Goths, finding there what he desired."
Jordanes adds in the next line: "All these nations surpassed the Germans in
size and spirit,..."  Suggesting perhaps that a Scandinavian origin might
separate the Goths from the less desirable status of continental Germans.

I also think another good explanation for the prestige value of Scandinavian
origins is apparent in both the Cassiodorus quotes above and in Jordanes.
The origins were not really about the Goths as a people.  They were
repeatedly about kings and royal families.  There was no question that late
Gothic kings as Germanic speakers could not credibly claim a southern or
eastern origin, but they had to distinguish themselves from the leaders of
continental Germanic coalitions like the Vandals and Alemanni, who had no
staying power.  Pliny made the Goths members of the Vandals and there is no
mention of that in Jordanes.  Scandinavia was a way of keeping the Gothic
rulers clear of the Roman puppet German kings mentioned by Tacitus and the
Stilicho-types who had no claim to rule by right of ancestry.

Steve Long

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