translated by Charles C. Mierow

Introductory Note

Jordanes, as he himself tells us a couple of times, was of Gothic descent and wrote this work as a summary of Cassiodorus’ much longer treatment of the history of the Goths. Because Cassiodorus’ book no longer survives, Jordanes’ treatment is often our only source for some of the Gothic history it describes. He wrote the Getica during the later stages of the reign of Justinian, not too long after the demise of the Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy.

Jordanes divided his work, apart from the brief introduction and conclusion, into four main sections (reflected in the contents below). These are 1) a Geographical Introduction; 2) the United Goths; 3) the Visigoths; 4) and the Ostrogoths. Other large sections, such as the discussion of the Huns, he treats as digressions of a sort (the more interesting or important of these have been added to the contents below). Mierow prefaces his translation with a detailed literary analysis of all the topics in the text; this is not, however, reproduced here.

The text of the translation presented here was scanned from a printed copy of Mierow’s book and checked carefully for errors (a few misprints in that book have been corrected as well). This hypertext version has been designed for the use of students of Ancient History at the University of Calgary. I have included the (Roman) chapter and (arabic) section numbers to facilitate specific citation (or to find a specific reference; these numbers may be found in Mierow’s translation as well, though the section numbers are in his margins) and have added internal links for purposes of navigation.



Geographical Introduction

The United Goths

         The Goths in the Third Century A.D.

         Origin of the Huns

The Divided Goths (Visigoths)

                 Attila the Hun; The Battle of the Catalaunian Fields

The Divided Goths (Ostrogoths)


Preface Though it had been my wish to glide in my little boat by the shore of a peaceful coast and, as a certain writer says, to gather little fishes from the pools of the ancients, you, brother Castalius, bid me set my sails toward the deep. You urge me to leave the little work I have in hand, that is, the abbreviation of the Chronicles, and to condense in my own style in this small book the twelve volumes of the Senator on the origin and deeds of the Getae from olden time to the present day, descending through the generations of the kings. Truly a hard command, and imposed by one who seems unwilling to realize the burden of the task. Nor do you note this, that my utterance is too slight to fill so magnificent a trumpet of speech as his. But above every burden is the fact that I have no access to his books that I may follow his thought. Still–and let me lie not–I have in times past read the books a second time by his steward’s loan for a three days’ reading. The words I recall not, but the sense and the deeds related I think I retain entire. To this I have added fitting matters from some Greek and Latin histories. I have also put in an introduction and a conclusion, and have inserted many things of my own authorship. Wherefore reproach me not, but receive and read with gladness what you have asked me to write. If aught be insufficiently spoken and you remember it, do you as a neighbor to our race add to it, praying for me, dearest brother. The Lord be with you. Amen.

Geographical IntroductionOur ancestors, as Orosius relates, were of the opinion that the circle of the whole world was surrounded by the girdle of Ocean on three sides. Its three parts they called Asia, Europe and Africa. Concerning this threefold division of the earth’s extent there are almost innumerable writers, who not only explain the situations of cities and places, but also measure out the number of miles and paces to give more clearness. Moreover they locate the islands interspersed amid the waves, both the greater and also the lesser islands, called Cyclades or Sporades, as situated in the vast flood of the Great Sea. But the impassable farther bounds of Ocean not only has no one attempted to describe, but no man has been allowed to reach; for by reason of obstructing seaweed and the failing of the winds it is plainly inaccessible and is unknown to any save to Him who made it. But the nearer border of this sea, which we call the circle of the world, surrounds its coasts like a wreath. This has become clearly known to men of inquiring mind, even to such as desired to write about it. For not only is the coast itself inhabited, but certain islands off in the sea are habitable. Thus there are to the East in the Indian Ocean, Hippodes, Iamnesia, Solis Perusta (which though not habitable, is yet of great length and breadth), besides Taprobane, a fair island wherein there are towns or estates and ten strongly fortified cities. But there is yet another, the lovely Silefantina, and Theros also. These, though not clearly described by any writer, are nevertheless well filled with inhabitants. This same Ocean has in its western region certain islands known to almost everyone by reason of the great number of those that journey to and fro. And there are two not far from the neighborhood of the Strait of Gades, one the Blessed Isle and another called the Fortunate. Although some reckon as islands of Ocean the twin promontories of Galicia and Lusitania, where are still to be seen the Temple of Hercules on one and Scipio’s Monument on the other, yet since they are joined to the extremity of the Galician country, they belong rather to the great land of Europe than to the islands of Ocean. However, it has other islands deeper within its own tides, which are called the Baleares; and yet another, Mevania, besides the Orcades, thirty-three in number, though not all inhabited. And at the farthest bound of its western expanse it has another island named Thule, of which the Mantuan bard makes mention:

“And Farthest Thule shall serve thee.”

The same mighty sea has also in its arctic region, that is in the north, a great island named Scandza, from which my tale (by God’s grace) shall take its beginning. For the race whose origin you ask to know burst forth like a swarm of bees from the midst of this island and came into the land of Europe. But how or in what wise we shall explain hereafter, if it be the Lord’s will.

But now let me speak briefly as I can concerning the island of Britain, which is situated in the bosom of Ocean between Spain, Gaul and Germany. Although Livy tells us that no one in former days sailed around it, because of its great size, yet many writers have held various opinions of it. It was long unapproached by Roman arms, until Julius Caesar disclosed it by batttles fought for mere glory. In the busy age which followed it became accessible to many through trade and by other means. Thus it revealed more clearly its position, which I shall here explain as I have found it in Greek and Latin authors. Most of them say it is like a triangle pointing between the north and west. Its widest angle faces the mouths of the Rhine. Then the island shrinks in breadth and recedes until it ends in two other angles. Its long doubled side faces Gaul and Germany. Its greatest breadth is said to be over two thousand three hundred and ten stadia, and its length not more than seven thousand one hundred and thirty-two stadia. In some parts it is moorland, in others there are wooded plains, and sometimes it rises into mountain peaks. The island is surrounded by a sluggish sea, which neither gives readily to the stroke of the oar nor runs high under the blasts of the wind. I suppose this is because other lands are so far removed from it as to cause no disturbance of the sea, which indeed is of greater width here than anywhere else. Moreover Strabo, a famous writer of the Greeks, relates that the island exhales such mists from its soil, soaked by the frequent inroads of Ocean, that the sun is covered throughout the whole of their disagreeable sort of day that passes as fair, and so is hidden from sight.

Cornelius also, the author of the Annals, says that in the farthest part of Britain the night gets brighter and is very short. He also says that the island abounds in metals, is well supplied with grass and is more productive in all those things which feed beasts rather than men. Moreover many large rivers flow through it, and the tides are borne back into them, rolling along precious stones and pearls. The Silures have swarthy features and are usually born with curly black hair, but the inhabitants of Caledonia have reddish hair and large loose-jointed bodies. They are like the Gauls or the Spaniards, according as they are opposite either nation. Hence some have supposed that from these lands the island received its inhabitants, alluring them by its nearness. All the people and their kings are alike wild. Yet Dio, a most celebrated writer of annals, assures us of the fact that they have all been combined under the name of Caledonians and Maeatae. They live in wattled huts, a shelter used in common with their flocks, and often the woods are their home. They paint their bodies with iron-red, whether by way of adornment or perhaps for some other reason.They often wage war with one another, either because they desire power or to increase their possessions. They fight not only on horseback or on foot, but even with scythed two-horse chariots, which they commonly call essedae. Let it suffice to have said thus much on the shape of the island of Britain.

Let us now return to the site of the island of Scandza, which we left above. Claudius Ptolemaeus, an excellent describer of the world, has made mention of it in the second book of his work, saying: “There is a great island situated in the surge of the northern Ocean, Scandza by name, in the shape of a juniper leaf with bulging sides that taper down to a point at a long end.” Pomponius Mela also makes mention of it as situated in the Codan Gulf of the sea, with Ocean lapping its shores. This island lies in front of the river Vistula, which rises in the Sarmatian mountains and flows through its triple mouth into the northern Ocean in sight of Scandza, separating Germany and Scythia. The island has in its eastern part a vast lake in the bosom of the earth, whence the Vagus river springs from the bowels of the earth and flows surging into the Ocean. And on the west it is surrounded by an immense sea. On the north it is bounded by the same vast unnavigable Ocean, from which by means of a sort of projecting arm of land a bay is cut off and forms the German Sea. Here also there are said to be many small islands scattered round about. If wolves cross over to these islands when the sea is frozen by reason of the great cold, they are said to lose their sight. Thus the land is not only inhospitable to men but cruel even to wild beasts.

Now in the island of Scandza, whereof I speak, there dwell many and divers nations, though Ptolemaeus mentions the names of but seven of them. There the honey-making swarms of bees are nowhere to be found on account of the exceeding great cold. In the northern part of the island the race of the Adogit live, who are said to have continual light in midsummer for forty days and nights, and who likewise have no clear light in the winter season for the same number of days and nights. By reason of this alternation of sorrow and joy they are like no other race in their sufferings and blessings. And why? Because during the longer days they see the sun returning to the east along the rim of the horizon, but on the shorter days it is not thus seen. The sun shows itself differently because it is passing through the southern signs, and whereas to us the sun seem to rise from below, it seems to go around them along the edge of the earth. There also are other peoples.  There are the Screrefennae, who do not seek grain for food but live on the flesh of wild beasts and birds’ eggs; for there are such multitudes of young game in the swamps as to provide for the natural increase of their kind and to afford satisfaction to the needs of the people. But still another race dwells there, the Suehans, who, like the Thuringians, have splendid horses. Here also are those who send through innumerable other tribes the sappherine skins to trade for Roman use. They are a people famed for the dark beauty of their furs and, though living in poverty, are most richly clothed. Then comes a throng of various nations, Theustes, Vagoth, Bergio, Hallin, Liothida. All their habitations are in one level and fertile region. Wherefore they are disturbed there by the attacks of other tribes. Behind these are the Ahelmil, Finnaithae, Fervir and Gauthigoth, a race of men bold and quick to fight. Then come the Mixi, Evagre, and Otingis. All these live like wild animals in rocks hewn out like castles. And there are beyond these the Ostrogoths, Raumarici, Aeragnaricii, and the most gentle Finns, milder than all the inhabitants of Scandza. Like them are the Vinovilith also. The Suetidi are of this stock and excel the rest in stature. However, the Dani, who trace their origin to the same stock, drove from their homes the Heruli, who lay claim to preëminence among all the nations of Scandza for their tallness. Furthermore there are in the same neighborhood the Grannii, Augandzi, Eunixi, Taetel, Rugi, Arochi and Ranii, over whom Roduulf was king not many years ago. But he despised his own kingdom and fled to the embrace of Theodoric, king of the Goths, finding there what he desired. All these nations surpassed the Germans in size and spirit, and fought with the cruelty of wild beasts.

Continue Reading “The United Goths


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