Story of the Goths - Henry Bradley


The Visigoths were never driven out of Spain as the Ostrogoths were driven out of Italy. They remained to become, like the older inhabitants of the country, subjects of the Moors. Under the Mohammedan dominion the two Christian peoples, drawn together by their common hatred of the infidel, and by their common aspirations after freedom, became finally one nation. The story of the Goths merges now into the story of Spain.

Yet even through the seven centuries of Moorish dominion the descendants of the native Spaniards continued to look up to the descendants of the Goths as to their natural leaders and chiefs. After the battle on the Guadalete the Goth Theudemer, the former viceroy of Southern Spain under Roderic, betook himself with a small band of men to the eastern coast, and there defended himself so valiantly that the conquerors allowed him to establish a tributary Christian kingdom in Murcia, where he reigned until his death. Afterwards the Moors broke the treaty which they had made with him, and the "land of Theudemer," as the Arabic writers call it, was joined to the Mohammedan dominions. In the far northwest, the Christians of the Asturias maintained their independence under a succession of Gothic chiefs, to whom the later kings of Spain were proud to trace their ancestry. In all the uprisings of the Christians against the Moors, and in the last great struggle which ended in the overthrow of the infidel rule, men with Gothic names appear as leaders and champions. But for the Gothic element in the Spanish people the chivalry of Castile would never have been, and Spain might even yet have remained under Mohammedan rule. To this day the noble families of Spain boast, if not always with reason, of the purity of their Gothic blood.

For the last traces of the Goths as a separate people, speaking their own language, we must, however, look not to Spain, but far away to the east of Europe. At the end of the fourth century, when the empire of Ermanaric fell under the yoke of the Huns, a small remnant of the Ostrogoths found shelter from the savage invaders in the Crimea, and in this remote corner of Europe they preserved their existence as a nation for more than a thousand years. Early in the fifth century they were converted to Catholic Christianity, and their bishops long continued to take part in general councils of the church. In the year 1562 a traveller from Belgium, named Busbek, met with two ambassadors sent by this little nation to Constantinople, and wrote down a long list of words belonging to their language. Of course many of these words were greatly corrupted, and some of them are not Gothic at all, but borrowed from the languages of the surrounding nations. But still the list makes it quite clear that the language spoken by this Crimean people must originally have been the same with that used by Wulfila in his translation of the Bible. Nearly two hundred years later—about 1750—a charitable Jesuit of Vienna, named Mondorf; ransomed a prisoner from the Turkish galleys, and learned from him that he came from the Crimea, and that his native language bore some resemblance to German. It is possible that Mondorf was not mistaken, and (strange as it seems to think of it!) that the language of Wulfila was actually surviving, in some corrupted shape, only a century and a half ago. Mondorf s ransomed captive knew nothing about Christianity, but said that his countrymen worshipped an ancient tree. Until the eighteenth century the Crimea was still called Gothia, at least in the official documents of the Greek Church; but the name is now gone out of use, and, so far as we know, the Gothic language is wholly extinct.

So ends, the story of the once mighty nation of the Goths. Many other peoples that have played as famous a part in history have passed away; but they have left behind them abundant monuments of their ancient greatness. With the Goths it has been otherwise. They have bequeathed to the world no treasures of literature, no masterpieces of art, no splendid buildings. They have left no conspicuous impress on the manners or the institutions of any modern European people. The other great Teutonic nations that overran the Roman Empire have their memorial in the modern names of the countries which they conquered. The Franks have given their name to France, the Burgunds to Burgundy, the Langobards to Lombardy, and the Vandals to Andalusia. But of the conquests and dominion of the Goths not even such slight record remains.

Yet though the Goths have passed away, leaving behind them so little to show what once they were, their memory can never die. History cannot forget the people whose valour shook the decaying Roman Empire to its fall, and prepared the way for the rise of a worthier civilization on the ruins of the old. In their work of destruction they succeeded; whenever they tried to build up they failed. But it is something to have attempted nobly; and, for all the sadness of its ending, the history is not wholly inglorious that records the saintly heroism of Wulfila, the chivalrous magnanimity of Totila, and the wise and beneficent statesmanship of Theoderic.