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Who Were the Goths and the Visigoths?

Goths and Visigoths

In the late 300s and the early 400s, a group of Germanic people fought against and brought down the Roman Empire, which had controlled most of Europe for centuries. This group of nomadic people was called the Goths.

Let’s learn more about the Goths and the Visigoths – Who were they, and how did they change our world?

The Goths began the invasion of the Roman Empire around 376. They eventually defeated them in 378 A.D in the Battle of Adrianople. The Goths, after their victory against the Romans, became rulers of lands that spanned from present-day Germany to the Don and Danube Rivers in East Europe. Their lands also stretched from the Black Sea in the south to the Baltic Sea in the north.

Visigoths and Ostrogoths

The medieval period in Europe is said to have begun after the ascendency of the Goths. Visigoths were the western tribes of the Goths. The Ostrogoths were those in the east.

The Romans and the Visigoths became trading partners and warring combatants after the defeat at Adrianople for ten years or so. When Alaric I, the first king of the Visigoths, successfully invaded Italy and sacked Rome in 410, he was able to establish his own kingdom in the Gaul region (Present-day France). In later years, the Visigoths expanded their territories to include Spain and Portugal, which they took forcibly from the Suebis and Vandals.

For some time, the Visigoths and the Romans maintained positive relations with each other, but this ended when the Visigoths took complete control of their kingdom under King Euric in 475. The Visigoths ended their nomadic ways and stayed in the Iberian Peninsula for almost three centuries (mid 400s – early 700s). Here the Visigoths were invaded and defeated by a force of African Moors.

The Visigothic Code

The Visigoth King Chindasuinth commanded his people to write the Visigothic Code in 643. In 654, his son, Recceswinth later expanded this code. The Visigothic Code or the Law of the Visigoths applied equally to the general public and the ruling Goths. Most of the population had Roman roots, but the code effectively put an end to the difference between ‘Gothi’ and ‘Romani’ people. They declared that all of the people living in the Visigoth Kingdom were ‘Hispanic’. Today, the term Hispanic is used to describe people of Spanish origin.

The Visigothic Code contained parts of Catholic, Roman, and Germanic tribal laws, establishing marriage and property inheritance rules. The code gave freedom to women to represent themselves in legal matters. It also allowed them to inherit and manage properties independently without the involvement of their husbands or other male relatives.

Impact of the Goths

The African Moors also formed their laws on the basis of the Visigothic Code when they conquered the Kingdom of the Visigoths in the early 700s. The Visigoths had gradually converted to Christianity from Germanic Paganism during the 5th and 6th centuries. But they did not adopt the catholic form of the religion until the 7th century. Many Catholic churches that the Visigoths built can still be found in Spain and Portugal.

The Visigoths left a legacy that survives even today to some degree. They left their mark in the Visigoth Code that they framed. Lawmakers since have used this code to draft many national laws.