The modern and long ago Goths….
As a young adult I attempted to channel my inner darkness into something cool. That’s how I revise my past when I hear the term Goth. But being candid I never actually went true goth. I was a lipstick goth — heavy eyeliner, black lipstick, Doc Martins and unkempt hair. I couldn’t fully abandon my love of boy bands and the thou shalt not smoke ‘ciggies’ attitude.
But this is off topic. I have always been confused about the Goths and Visigoths of history so I’ve endeavoured to clear up my ignorance in a hugely abbreviated version which in true soap opera style involves violence, back stabbing and bribery. My narrative in faithful rascal modus operandi is just enough to partake in that high brow dinner party small talk before you escape to discuss TikTok with the cool gang…..
We are not quite sure where the Goths originated from. Some say they came from Scandinavia, sailed across the sea and settled in Poland. But we have no certainty on this as writing from that time is scant. From the little we know, we believe that their written word was composed of basic runic symbols and it is thought that their pagan religion used shamans — those who interacted as intermediaries between the tribe and god. Within this wider Goth tribe, those who lived in the West were called Visigoths whilst the Eastern people were labelled Ostrogoths although at that juncture they did not refer to themselves using these terms.
The Roman empire had been in existence for hundreds of years when the Goths arrived. The Visigoths served as Roman soldiers in the army but the relationship was tumultuous as they were regarded as ‘barbarians’. Upon continued mis-treatment they began to rise up against the executive in the late 300s to early 400s AD. A key defeat for the Romans came at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 AD forcing them to re-assess their challengers. The Visigoths continued to trade and war with the Romans over the following years eventually agreeing peace and coercing a settlement on Roman territory. For several years an uneasy truce reigned between the Visigoths and what was by now a split rule between the Eastern Roman empire and the Western Roman empire. However infractions were pursued by all sides. As signs appeared of the crumbling of the Western Roman empire, the first king of the Visigoths — Alaric I, undertook the successful invasion and taking of Rome in 410AD. Whilst Rome was no longer the centre of the Roman empire, this sacking sent reverberations around Europe.
With few options of support, in a volte face, the weakened Western Roman empire enlisted the help of the Visigoths to stave off other tribes attacking the Iberian peninsula which was under Roman control. In 418, in return for their help the Visigoths were rewarded with land in Iberia on which to settle. This ultimately became theirs when they achieved independence from the Western Roman empire in 475 leading the Visigoths to become their most powerful of successors. I read that the Visigoths were first to introduce cavalry — soldiers adroit at fighting from horseback. This allowed the tribe to control huge swathes of land by force, widening the sphere of influence into present day Southwest France, Spain, Portugal and Eastern Europe in the early 500s AD.
In 589 as the ethnic differences between the Iberian Roman population and the Visigoths mostly disappeared, the Visigoths changed religion from Paganism to Catholicism. In 643, their King Chindasuinth created The Visigoth code or the Law of the Visigoths which was enhanced by his son. The laws were a combination of Roman, Catholic and Germanic tribal law covering for example property, marriage, and the rights of women. Interestingly these rules elevated women, allowing legal self representation, the ability to determine own marriage and inherit property. Legislation also removed the differences between the conquerors and the vanquished (known as the Gothi and Romani people). It was decreed that they were all to be known as Hispani which is the precursor to the word Hispanic — meaning of Spanish origin.
Fast forward. In the early 700’s the Moors conquered the Visigoth kingdom, swarming into a country where the tribe were divided and leaderless. That was the end of the distinct Visigoth clan as assimilation into other ethnic groups washed through. Little remains of the Gothic language or anything else physical for that matter. However under their rule, the Moors retained the basis of Visigoth law and this code formed the backbone of Spanish law through the middle ages several hundred years later. I believe it has had some influence on Spanish law of today but I’ve read conflicting comments about this.
As testament to their limited legacy, The Oxford English dictionary defines Goth as a sub culture. It is also curious that the word gothic is used for a period of architecture and a type of fiction but it is not clear how that relates to the Goth people.
Tangentially, the Ostrogoths seemed to have been less successful than the Visigoths eventually disappearing from history. But for a time, even they were able to widen their area of influence as the Roman empire weakened.
But back to my young adult regret which I tried to explain with poignancy to cost centre 2. He just rolled his eyes and told me that his friends don’t use the term Goths. This group are now called Emos and apparently they are weird. I don’t mind. Not withstanding that the Goths of history have left meagre pickings for us to remember them by, I enjoy thinking back to the modern Goths of my youth; because regardless of if they also have disappeared, I credit the existence of that tribe for helping me build the confidence to express myself which is never a bad thing in a young person — even if they do have bad hair…..