Scandinavian Origins of the Goths

Hans-Werner Hatting hwhatting at
Thu Mar 22 05:31:14 UTC 2001

Some thoughts on things mentioned in the last posts by Steve Long and Joat

1. As Joat Simeon pointed out, the Goths belong to the East Germanic Group,
which is linguistically different from the West Germanic dialects some of
the other Germanic people having contacts with the Roman empire were
speaking. So, whatever the political reasons for which the Gothic court
might have wished to emphasize any differences to these people, these
differences were real.

2. Concerning the prestigiousness of the Scandinavian origins: It would have
been much more consistent on Cassiodorus' and Jordanes' side to stick to the
Goths = Getae - equation, as this implied that the Goths were in the area
from antiquity, and even being related by marriage to the ancestors of
Alexander the Great. This would have differentiated them satisfactorily from
the other Germanic tribes. My opinion is that they simply could not do so,
as the Scandinavian origins were too widely known among the Gothic
leadership, and so they were reported  alongside with the Getae theory.

3. The Gothic court might have milked the Scandinavian origins of the Goths
(or part of the Goths) for what it was worth politically, but this does *not*
imply that anybody invented them. The political usefulness Steve Long
describes may, of course, have been an additional reason why Jordanes does
not suppress this tradition, as he seemingly does with others.

4. I would take the presence of King Rodulf at Theodoric's court not as
evidence for the invention of the Scandinavian version, but as evidence that
at least the Gothic elite never lost the connection to their ancestral
lands. What is more likely - that a dethroned monarch goes to the court of
another ruler because he is a distant relative and can hope for some
support, or that a court accepts a refugee king and only then decides to
declare, BTW, we did not know that before, but where he comes from is our
homeland? We should keep in mind that the Goths (or those of the court who
cared about what the Romans thought about them) might have felt an urge to
show the Romans that they were not common-and-garden barbarians, but I
assume that the Gothic elite - like all elites - had traditions about their
origins, which could not be simply tossed aside or replaced for mere
political reasons. This does not exclude, of course, the possibility that
Cassiodorus made the family tree of the Amalungs more impressive by adding
to it.

5. That said, I agree with Joat Simeon that the Goths were probably not
ethnically monolithic. The Ostrogoths probably had added other ethnic
elements (Germanic and Non-Germanic) on the Vistula, from their empire in
the Ukraine, and from the time they fought together with the Huns in the
Balkans. Each of these groups had their own histories, so Cassiodorus and
Jordanes may have found several deviating traditions among the Goths
themselves, as well as wild speculations among Roman authors.

6. Some support for the theory that the ethnic core of the Goths (those who
gave the language) came from Scandinavia is that the East Germanic Dialects,
to which Gothic belongs, show a close linguistic relationship to the Nordic
dialects, which led some linguists to posit a bipartite division of Germanic
(Gotho-Nordic vs. South-Germanic) instead of the usual tripartite division.

Best regards,
Hans-Werner Hatting

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