Who Were the Visigoths?

Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco
Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

The Visigoths were an East Germanic tribe closely related to the Ostrogoths. Together, they are considered the largest Germanic barbaric group in Early Europe. Little is known about the Visigoths until the year 268 A.D., when they headed a deadly invasion over the Roman Empire. They caused devastation by taking over several Italian provinces, before being defeated near the Slovenian border. The Visigoths then retreated to Dacia, a Roman province they had conquered several months before, where they established a small empire that remained untouched until the year 376.

In 376 A.D., the Gothic Wars were underway. Under frequent attack by the Huns and looking to relocate, the Visigoths asked the Roman Empire for permission to move down south. While the request was granted, the Roman emperor Valens later refused to let the Visigoths settle. When famine struck, the emperor didn’t deliver the promised supplies. The Visigoths, who had remained peaceful for over a hundred years, revolted, starting a deadly war that resulted in the destruction of half of the Balkans, plus the death of the traitor emperor.

While the war ended in a truce, the Romans considered it a defeat. Years later, this small war would be credited as the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire. Over the next two decades, Roman Emperor Theodosius I and the Visigoths’ king, Alaric I, did their best to keep the peace. Occasional conflicts were quickly dealt with, and both groups remained in relative friendship. When Theodosius left the throne in the hands of his sons, however, everything changed. Over previous years, over 30,000 Visigoths had entered the Roman army.

This was seen as a good diplomatic move on both sides, and a guarantee of respect for the other group. After Theodosius's death, and following conflicts that were never confirmed to be caused by the Visigoths, his sons ordered the killing of the families of all Visigoths soldiers serving in the Roman army. The massacre caused Alaric to declare war, take over Rome, and eventually become the most powerful nation in the Iberian Peninsula. It wasn’t until the year 507 A.D. that the Visigoths would lose another battle.

The last kingdom of the Visigoths survived until the beginnings of the 8th century. After King Roderic was killed in battle, the Visigoths struggled to remain united, and eventually fell under the Muslim conquest that took over the whole area by the year 718 A.D.

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Discussion Comments


visigoths, ostrogoths. Just looking at the names suggests that the visigoths were a western tribe and the Ostrogoths were from the east. As Ost in german means East and Visi sounds too much like west which is also west in german the w in west is pronounced as an english V. Just a passing observation!

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