Thursday, April 09, 2015

Word of the Day -- Visigoths

The Visigoths were branches of the nomadic tribes of Germanic peoples referred to collectively as the Goths. These tribes flourished and spread during the late Roman Empire in Late Antiquity, or the Migration Period. The Visigoths emerged from earlier Gothic groups who had invaded the Roman Empire beginning in 376 and had defeated the Romans at the Battle of Adrianople in 378.  The Visigoths invaded Italy under Alaric I and sacked Rome in 410. Their long history of migration led the Visigoths to compare themselves to the Biblical Hebrew people who purportedly wandered for forty years in the Sinai Desert. After the Visigoths sacked Rome, they began settling down, first in southern Gaul and eventually in Spain and Portugal, where they founded the Kingdom of the Visigoths.

The Visigoths first settled in southern Gaul as foederati of the Romans - a relationship established in 418.  However, they soon fell out with their Roman hosts (for reasons that are now obscure) and established their own kingdom with its capital at Toulouse. They next extended their authority into Hispania at the expense of the Suevi and Vandals. In 507, however, their rule in Gaul was ended by the Franks under Clovis I, who defeated them in the Battle of VouillĂ©. After that, the Visigoth kingdom was limited to Hispania, and they never again held territory north of the Pyrenees other than Septimania. A small, elite group of Visigoths came to dominate the governance of that region at the expense of those who had previously ruled there, particularly in the Byzantine province of Spania and the Suebic Kingdom of Galicia.


In or around 589, the Visigoths under Reccared I converted from Arianism to Nicene Christianity, gradually adopting the culture of their Hispano-Roman subjects. Their legal code, the Liber iudiciorum (completed in 654) abolished the longstanding practice of applying different laws for Romans and Visigoths. Once legal distinctions were no longer being made between Romani and Gothi, they became known collectively as Hispani. In the century that followed, the region was dominated by the Councils of Toledo and the episcopacy (Little else is known about the Visigoths' history during the 7th century, since records are relatively sparse.) In 711 or 712, a force of invading Arabs and Berbers defeated the Visigoths in the Battle of Guadalete. Their king and many members of their governing elite were killed, and their kingdom rapidly collapsed. Gothic identity survived, however, especially in Marca Hispanica and the Kingdom of Asturias, which had been founded by the Visigothic nobleman Pelagius after his victory over the Moors at the Battle of Covadonga.

During their governance of the Kingdom of Hispania, the Visigoths built several churches that survive. They also left many artifacts, which have been discovered in increasing numbers by archaeologists in recent times. The Treasure of Guarrazar of votive crowns and crosses is the most spectacular. They founded the only new cities in western Europe from the fall of the Western half of the Roman Empire until the rise of the Carolingians. Many Visigothic names and surnames are still in use in modern Spanish and Portuguese. Their most notable legacy, however, was the Visigothic code of law, the Liber iudiciorum, which served, among other things, as the basis for court procedure in most of Christian Iberia until the Late Middle Ages, centuries after the demise of the kingdom.

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