Visigoths Known as the Western Goths, one of the two major divisions of the Goths, the Visigoths developed separately from the Ostrogoths (Eastern Goths). By the close of the Western Empire they had become a powerful kingdom, occupying much of northern Spain and Aquitania.

Splitting from their Ostrogothic kin in the early fourth century C.E., the Visigoths settled in Dacia in the area north of the Danube, remaining in that region throughout much of the century, pursuing a life based largely on agriculture. As with so many other tribes, by 376 the Visigoths were feeling the mounting pressure of the migrations of the Huns from the East.

Under their kings, Fritigern and Alavius, the Visigoths moved to the Danube and sent representatives to Constantinople to ask Emperor Valens for permission to enter imperial territory in Thrace. Fritigern, speaking to Valens on behalf of his people, was successful, although certain demands were made upon them in return, such as the surrendering of hostages and the handing over of all weapons.

Just at the Visigoths seemed ready to settle down, more refugees fleeing from the Huns arrived, renewing ties between the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths. The Roman administration of their domain was also harsh, bringing about war in Thrace.

Alavius was slain in an ambush, but Fritigern, aided by the Ostrogoths under Alatheus and Saphrax, stunned and horrified the Roman world with his smashing victory over Valens on August 9, 378, at Adrianople.

The Visigoths menaced Thrace and plundered the Balkans but were confronted with the lasting problem of finding a home. Fritigern was murd e red in a power struggle, and the Visigoths remained, still unhappy, in Moesia.

Theodosiusi, trying to end the threat of the barbarians and to create a buffer between the provincial cities and the more dangerous hordes of the Huns, made an offer to the Goths. In October 382, he allowed them to inhabit large stretches of Moesia, but as federates of the empire, with the duty of protecting the frontier.

Whether or not this agreement could have lasted was re n d e red moot by the emergence of the influential King Alaric a round 395. Alaric, like his ambitious predecessors, desired a permanent domain for his people and moved out of the Danubian provinces and roamed through Greece before setting out for Italy.

His ultimate goal was the granting of concessions by Emperor Honorius, but he had not counted on the presence of the Magister Militum, Stilicho. Despite Stilicho’s chronic reluctance to finish off any potentially useful barbarian host, he did repulse Alaric twice, at Pollentina (402) and at Verona (403).

With plague, exhaustion, and starvation depleting his ranks, Alaric withdre w. Stilicho had a hand in his easy retreat, for the Visigoths no doubt figured in the magister’s formula for annexing Illyricum from the Eastern Empire .

Alaric allowed himself to serve as a subject of the empire once more, holding Epirus for Honorius (c. 407). By 408, however, he was again strong enough to make his own demands. Sweeping into Noricum he called for payment for his services, and through Stilicho’s influence received Tributum. Stilicho was put to death in that same year, and, with all restraints removed, the Visigoths marched on Italy.

Rome was besieged three times during 409 and 410, and on August 24, 410, Alaric and his warriors entered the Eternal City. For two or three days Rome was pillaged and sacked. The Visigoths had thus not only annihilated a Roman emperor and his army but had desecrated the most venerable city in the empire.

Alaric was still seeking a home for his people and moved south to the edge of Italy , hoping to cross to Africa. A storm wrecked the ships and the king died soon afterward. His brother-in-law Athaulf succeeded him, leading the Visigoths north, out of Italy and into southern Gaul (Gallia Narbonensis).

They had with them a prisoner, Galla Placidia, as a bargaining tool and were soon encamped throughout Narbonensis and Gallia Aquitania. Athaulf then married Galla Placidia but was forced by the patrician Constantius to evacuate into northern Spain.

Events took a dramatic turn in 415, when Athaulf was assassinated. A usurper named Singeric aborted the king’s plans for better relations with Ravenna and the Western Empire, forcing Galla Placidia to endure humiliations. Singeric was replaced quickly by the far stronger Wallia, who was king from 415 to 418 and was important in bringing his people into close relations with the Romans.

He was elected ostensibly because of his anti-Roman sentiments but reinstated Galla Placidia; and, after his fleet bound for Africa was ruined by a storm, he entered into negotiations with Contantius (soon to be Constantius III). According to the agreement, the Visigoths would make war on the Vandals, Alans, and Suebi in Spain while surrendering Galla.

In return, they received corn and large sections of Gaul—Narbonensis and Aquitania—to call their own. Wallia waged cruel war in Spain, virtually annihilating large elements of barbarian tribes, fulfilling his part of the bargain, as his people finally found a homeland in Gaul.

Wallia died in 418, followed on a throne by Theodoric I. Now settled, the Visigoths were able to consolidate and to expand. No opportunity was missed to add pieces of Roman land, although extensive acquisition was always difficult, given the constant movement of other peoples. As federates, the Visigoths had to aid the West, as it was in their own interest to do so.

Such was the case in 451, as Attila the Hun threatened to wipe out every degree of order in Gaul. Theodoric joined the Magister Militumaetius and his allies against Attila at the battle of Catalaunian Plain. In the fierce fighting, Attila was halted but Theodoric fell in the fray.

His son Thorismund screamed for revenge, only to have Aetius fill his head with fears of losing his crown to scheming siblings. Thorismund rode home. Aetius may have been pre s e rving the Huns to maintain a balance in the barbarian realms, but his warning came true. Thorismund was murdered by his brother, Theodoric II, in 453.

Theodoric helped Avitus to occupy the Western throne and launched an assault upon the resurgent Suebi in Spain, destroying them at Astorga in 456. Angered by the fall of Avitus in 456, he rampaged through Gaul, besieging Arles.

Avitus’s successor, Marjorian, sent out his best general, Aegidius, against Theodoric, and the Visigoths were repulsed and forced into new negotiations. Barely 10 years later, in 466, Theodoric was himself assassinated by his brilliant, ambitious brother, Euric.

Eager to enhance the position of the Visigoths, Euric embarked upon a deliberate program of extending Gothic supremacy over all of Gaul. By 475 he was the master of most of Spain, southern Gaul and portions of Gaul’s northern lands.

The Visigoth kingdom extended from Spain to the Loire and the Rhine. He then took the dramatic step of declaring himself free of federate status to Rome. Henceforth his possessions were his alone, a development that did much to sap the fleeting strength of the Western Empire.

The Visigoths now owned a Gallic kingdom, a bastion of Arianism that would survive until 507, when Clovis the Frank would crush Euric’s son, Alaric II, at the battle of Vouille. Spain would then be their home until the coming of the Moors early in the eighth century.

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