This page is dedicated to the history of three of the Germanic tribes of ancient and early medieval times, the Visigoths, Ostrogoths and Vandals. Due to circumstances beyond my control, the page was down for several months, but I have been able to restore all of the original historical information as it was in November of 2005. The site will be updated from time to time as I find the free time to do so, and I hope that it will be a quality Web resource for anyone needing information on the early Germans.
A siliqua (replica of a Roman coin) struck at the Carthage mint in the fifth century. Whose photo is on the coin is unknown, but it may very well be an image of King Gaiseric.
A few notes before you read on. If you are looking for other information that was once at this URL, I am sorry. I had to remove it because it came to my knowledge that information about me from this site was being used in ways I didn't wish it to be used. On another note, I welcome feedback on the site. If you have questions or have discovered an error, please feel free to email me.
I'm no expert on fancy HTML, so I've arranged it with the Goths first, then the Vandals, and at the bottom of the page is a table which you can use to see the chronology of the kings of these peoples and biographies on the most famous of them.
The Goths, 1 AD-250
The Goths of antiquity were an Eastern Germanic tribe whose origins are still disputed to this day. For centuries, theories were abound that they crossed the Baltic Sea from Scandinavia sometime around the birth of Christ and then embarked on the centuries of migration that followed (the name of the Swedish island Gotland is said to be evidence of this). Others say they came originally from the Pomerania region which is now in northwest Poland. The truth is probably less interesting. Most likely, the Goths were an amalgamation of different Germanic groups who came together as their own nation, as the Franks were among the Western Germanic peoples.
In any case, they appear in history in the first and second centuries AD, living along the Baltic coast in the area we now know as Lithuania. Their is some evidence that they left a lasting impression on that region, as several common Lithuanian names seem to be derived from Gotish, the Goths' native language. In the third and fourth centuries, the Goths migrated to the south and east, eventually finding their way into Ukraine. They established a nation in the fertile region between the Bug and Donets Rivers, centered on the Crimean peninsula.
Around 250, the Goths began to split into two groups. One group of Goths, the Visigoths (West-Goths), began to migrate westward toward the territory of the Roman Empire. The remaining Goths became known as the Ostrogoths (East-Goths) and remained in Ukraine, where they began to build a vast empire. Back to that in a minute...
Only one man, Theodoric the Great, ever ruled a united Kingdom of the Goths after the third century.
The Visigoths, 250-375
The Visigoths' first recorded history as a distinct people began in the year 251, when they and their war-chief Kniva went into battle against the Romans at a place called Abrittus, in modern Yugoslavia. They defeated the Roman Emperor Decius and killed him in the fighting--the first time a Roman Emperor had ever fallen in battle. For the next two decades, the Visigoths would swarm all over the Roman-ruled Balkans. They were never strong enough to conquer them, but neither could the Romans completely drive them out.
In 267, the Visigoths even took to the sea, sailing from ports along the upper Black Sea and raiding into the Mediterranean as far south as the island of Cyprus. The Roman Emperor at the time, Gallienus, was busy fighting other Visigoths in the Balkans and was unable to stop the raids.
But the the first Gothic heyday soon ended. In 268, the Romans got a new Emperor, a man named Claudius who was a great general from the regions being devastated by the Goths. In September of 269, Claudius and his cavalry commander Aurelian destroyed the main Visigoth army at Naissus (Nis, Yugoslavia), inflicting 40,000 casualties and taking probably as many prisoners. Claudius, the best Roman Emperor in six decades, died a year later, but Aurelian took over for him. By 271, this great soldier-emperor had expelled the Visigoths to the north bank of the Danube River. He left to them the former Roman province of Dacia (modern Romania), and for the next century, the Visigoths lived there in relative peace. In fact, many of them crossed the border and enlisted in Aurelian's Roman Army as mercenaries.
The Ostrogoths, 250-454
The eastern branch of the Goths expanded northward while the Visigoths were taking on the Romans for the first time. Their expansion didn't take the form of a migration back to their old homes, but seems to have been more economic and probably based on extracting tribute in exchange for peace.
The first Ostrogothic king that we have any significant information about was Ermanaric, who likely ruled from about 320 to 375, and who by around 350 controlled an expanse of territory from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. However, by 360, the Huns began to apply pressure on them from the east, and by 375 had not only destroyed the Ostrogothic kingdom, but also taken it over. From 375 until 454, the Ostrogoths would be ruled by the King of the Huns, and fight in the Huns' many wars with Rome.
The Visigoths, 376-722 and the Ostrogoths, 455-552
From here, we are into the area of Gothic history for which we have many attributable and reliable sources. You can click on the links of the biographies of the individual kings listed in the chart at the bottom of the page to learn more.
The Vandals, 359-534
The Vandals were a different story entirely, although they spoke an East Germanic family language that was apparently so similar to Gotish that they were mutually intelligible. You will notice that the names of Vandal and Goth kings look almost alike--in fact, the greatest of the Vandal rulers, Gaiseric, is easily transliterated as Gaisureiks, or "spear-king" in either Gotish or Vandalic (or at least we think so...almost all of the Vandalic language is lost to history!).
The Vandals were a rather insignificant Germanic tribe which lived between the Silesia region of modern Poland and modern Hungary for centuries at the height of the Roman Empire. For most of their history, they were best known among the Romans as one of their top whipping-boys (to use a modern analogy!). This changed in the late fourth century under King Godigisel, who led the southern or "Hasdingi" Vandals to war when the Huns began to push into Europe. The northern Vandals, the "Silingi" group, mostly remained in Silesia (which may well be named for them). The history given here is for the Hasdingi Vandals.
Godigisel led approximately 100,000 Vandals to the west sometime between 395 and 405, and in the latter year, got embroiled in a war with the Franks in the modern Rhineland region of Germany. The Vandals and their allies, the Alans and Suevi, eventually won the war, but at a terrible price. About 20,000 Vandals were killed, among them Godigisel. His son Gunderic became King and led the Vandals, Alans and Suevi in a legendary crossing of the frozen Rhine River on 31 December 406.
This crossing put the Vandals into the Roman province of Gaul. They promptly rampaged through it and in 409, crossed the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. Sometime around 415, the Romans granted Gunderic the governorship of a large area of southern Spain, which became known as Vandalusia, for obvious reasons. We still call it that today, just without the "v".
There the Vandals remained for 14 years, but the going was rough. They weren't that numerous, and the Visigoths had come into Spain and were determined to add it to their growing kingdom. In 419, the Visigoths crushed the Alans in battle, leading that Asiatic tribe to appeal to Gunderic for protection. He thus became King of the Vandals and Alans. But he was defeated in his own turn in 428, and killed in battle. The Vandals lost thousands of men in that war...but they were about to get their revenge.
Needing a new king, the Vandals assembled and chose Godigisel's second son and Gunderic's half-brother, a lame 39-year-old named Gaiseric. I won't tell his tale here; you can read his biography by clicking on the link.
Unfortunately, Gaiseric's successors were not men cut of the same cloth. The decline began almost immediately, under his son Huneric, who was arguably the most worthless of any of the Germanic kings. The Vandals did not begin to recover militarily until the reign of Gelimer, who rebuilt the Vandal army and could have saved their independence but for a foolish mistake he made in the decisive Battle of Ad Decimum against the legendary Byzantine general Belisarius late in 533.
The Vandals essentially faded from history after Gelimer surrendered to Belisarius in 534. The last Vandal king lived out the rest of his life on a vast estate in the Balkans granted by the Emperor Justinian, dying in 553. The last mention of the Hasdingi royal family was a few years after that. King Hilderic's daughter Hildis (530-572) married Valdar Hroarsson, son of the Danish King Hroar, sometime around 550. Descendants of their union ruled in various Scandinavian countries for centuries after that. The male line also survived, and there are persons today who claim descendance from Gaiseric.
Some of the Vandals who had settled in Africa returned to Europe after the Byzantine reconquest. Some went to Spain and joined the Visigoths, where a small Vandalic community had remained after Gaiseric invaded Africa. Others returned to their ancestral homeland in Silesia, where the Vandals remained as a distinct people as late as the ninth century.
|Ermanaric (Airmanareiks)||c.320-c.375||Athanaric (Athanareiks)-ruled united kingdom 380-81||363-381|
|Interregnum-Hunnic rule||375-454||Fritigern (Frithugairns)||369-380|
|Valamir||454-469||Interregnum, no unified ruler||381-395|
|Theodoric the Great (Thiudareiks)||474-526||Athaulf||410-415|
|....as King of Italy||493-526||Sigeric||415|
|Vitiges (end of Valamir dynasty)||536-540||Thorismund||451-453|
|Hildebad (usurper 536-40)||540-541||Theodoric II||453-466|
|Baduila (aka Totila)||541-552||Alaric II (killed in battle by Franks)||484-507|
Conquered by Eastern Roman Empire, 552
|Theodoric the Great (Ostrogoth, regent for Amalaric)||511-526|
|Amalaric (see above, actual reign began 526, last King of Balthi dynasty began by Alaric)||511-531|
Conquered by Eastern Roman Empire, 534
|Roderic (killed at Guadalete)||709-711|
Battle of Guadalete 711, conquered by Moors
|Achila (usurper 710-711)||710-714|
|Ardo (killed by Omayyads)||714-720|
|Pelayo (King of Asturias)||718-737|
Battle of Covadonga c. 721, independence regained
|Favila (King of Asturias)||737-741|