In the wake of widespread public demand from at least one person, the blog now features an Essay page with various papers and essays supplied for the purpose of public edification. There are only a couple at the moment, but more will be added as they are either written or retrieved from the dark corners of my hard drives.


I have recently been advised by usually trustworthy and well-informed individuals that when maintaining a blog, providing the occasional bit of content is, while perhaps not sensu stricto absolutely necessary, then at least a very good idea. After due consideration, I have gradually come around to their point of view.

So today we’ll be talking about Goths. Not the post-punk-related, Thanatos-inspired music-genre-turned-contemporary-subculture with its lugubrious, mystical sound and outlook that is especially flourishing in Western Europe,* mind you. No, we’ll be talking about the group (or groups) of (possibly) Germanic barbarians (which is not a fair way to describe them, but no one knows what else to call them) that invaded (more or less) the Roman Empire in 378 and decided (not that they had much choice) to stick around. So they wandered around the Empire, sacked Rome (perhaps not so big a deal as one might think), conquered (or not) Hispania and Italia, and eventually brought about (maybe) the Fall of the Roman Empire (which may or may not actually have fallen).

That is at least the classical understanding of the Goths, but as you might guess, there are certain issues with that. As is often the case with history, the more we research, the more complex things turn out to be, and the less it seems like we can actually say with certainty.

Late 19th century historians had no such concerns. They confidently drew maps of the Late Antique Roman Empire with long, colourful lines and arrows, accurately reflecting where the barbarians hordes went and what they did, and the areas where they eventually settled also cheerfully got marked with bright colours and thick border lines to signify that these were “Kingdoms” and Definititely Not The Empire. So there.

The historical accounts suffered from equally few doubts:

For three hundred years – beginning with the days of Tacitus – their history consists of little else than a dreary record of barbarian slaughter and pillage. A century later, the Goths have become the mightiest nation in Europe. One of their two kings sits on the throne of the Caesars; the other reigns over Spain and the richest part of Gaul. We look forward two hundred and fifty years, and the Gothic kingdoms are no more; the nation itself has vanished from the stage of history, leaving scarcely a trace behind. **

Such interpretations are of course not very current any more. Modern historiography has raised questions about Gothic ethnicity, social structures, actions, aims and motives, the relationship between the new Gothic political entities and the Empire, and so forth. Some have even questioned whether it is appropriate to view the group that entered the Roman Empire in ethnic terms at all, seeing them rather as a army with a core of Gothic commanders, but otherwise a quite flexible membership.***

However, my current interest in the Goths is a little more limited in scope, focusing on their history after 418 when the main body of Goths (perhaps or perhaps not called ‘Tervingi’ or ‘Visigoths’) were given control of and settled in the province of Aquitania around the city Toulouse in southern Gaul. This point in time is quite interesting for a number of reasons – definitely for the Goths, because it marks their transition from an ambulatory and more or less outlawed group to one that is settled in and actually excercises a reasonably legitimate authority over a particular area; but also for the Romans, in that transferring political authority over a part of the Empire to an outside group was almost unprecedented at the time. The settlement in Aquitania of course also had consequences for the local aristocracy and other power elites that were already in the area and now had to adjust to the arrival of a new group of rulers that did not conform at all to their own values and expectations.

It is particularly this last point that I am currently working on, and which should hopefully result in a brief paper shortly. How did the relations evolve between the old, established power structure and the new rulers – two groups which most likely differed significantly in values, world view, religion, and a number of other characteristics? Were there accomodation, conflicts, or both? And how did these factors affect the political events in general, and vice versa?

The main source for answering these questions is the collection of letters by the mid-to-late fifth century Galllic aristocrat and bishop Sidonius Apollinaris.**** Like most other Gallic aristocrats of his time, Sidonius was a prolific letter writer; the exchange of letters played a very important role in establishing and maintaining social and political ties among the members of the fifth century aristocracy, so it was important to master the very embellished and, some might say, rather stilted writing style***** that was common at the time, and to use it frequently.

However, contrary to what one might expect, Sidonius doesn’t actually have all that much to say about the Goths – there are some references, certainly, but they are relatively rare considering the size and scope of the collection. The same pattern is found in a slightly later collection by the bishop Ruricius of Limoges,****** and while drawing conclusions ‘from silence’ is always a bit dangerous, I think there are explanations for this that can in themselves shed some light on the relationship between the Goths and the Romans, and in turn about the nature of the Gothic domination of southern Gaul.

More about that in a later post.


* – Yeah, I totally lifted that off Wikipedia. But it’s not plagiarism if you list your sources… is it?

** – H. Bradley: The Goths (London, 1888), p. 3; quoted from P. Heather: The Goths (Oxford, 1996), p. xii.

*** – Especially Reinhard Wenskus: Stammesbildung und Verfassung. Das Werden der frühmittelalterliche Gentes (Cologne 1961), and more recently Herwig Wolfram: Das Reich und die Germanen (Berlin, 1990).

**** – Sidonius: Poems, Letters I-II, ed. W. Anderson, Loeb Classical 296 (Cambridge, 1936) and Sidonius: Letters III-IX, Loed Classical 420 (Cambridge, 1965)

***** – Anderson, the translator of the standard Loeb edition, seems to carry a particular dislike for it. His footnotes are sometimes quite amusing.

****** – Ruricius: Ruricius of Limoges and Friends. A Collection of Letters from Visigothic Gaul, ed. Ralph W. Mathisen (Liverpool, 1999)

Essay is finished, almost on deadline, and almost ready to be sent off to the editor, once I finish the final bit of proofreading and such. I hope it’s what he wanted. Otherwise I guess he’ll just have to yell at me or something.

Anyway. That’s over and done with. Tomorrow we’ll talk about something actually medieval – that’s what this blog is ostensibly about, after all.

But right now I need my sleep.

Yes, sleep – that “balm of hurt minds,* great nature’s second course”…


* – I really wonder why I keep doing this to myself

I take a small break from the Purgatory of frantic essay-writing (Four pages today. Not enough!) to share these insights on the nature of the medievalist, brought to us by Another Damned Medievalist from Blogenspiel:

You Might Be A Medievalist If…

-Your secondary sources are somebody else’s primary sources.

-Everyone else on your conference panel has taken holy orders.

-You have a favorite decree of the Fourth Lateran Council.

-Your particular field of study could be wiped out by a car accident.

-You’ve ever been asked “the truth” about King Arthur.

-You refer to the American Revolution as a “recent development.”

-You add the word “yet” to the statement “I don’t know that language.”

-You specify which level of hell your day has been like.

-You call the renaissance “a dirty lie.”

Great stuff. For some reason, though, Another Damned Medievalist calls this ‘humour’, which I find a little hard to understand. I mean, who doesn’t have a favorite decree of the Fourth Lateran Council?*

* – Mine is number 16.

Last time I was in this situation, I made a promise to myself. “Andreas,” I said to myself. “This is the last time you’ll be in this situation. Never again!” And I swore to high Heaven that this would, indeed, be the very last time I was in that situation.

I refer, of course, to deadlines. More specifically, I refer to the situation that you get a writing assignment and a comfortable deadline in about three months’ time, but instead of actually making good use of all that time, you procrastinate endlessly, pushing the project ahead of you like a dead walrus* until it’s the very last week before deadline. At that point, you find yourself faced with the daunting prospect of having to write 3-4 pages of preferably high-quality prose a day in order to finish the damn thing in time for the deadline – in the evenings after coming home from your day job, of course.

So last time did not in fact turn out to be the last time. And the odds are pretty good that this time won’t be the last time, either. Resignation seems the best approach here. But the question remains why exactly it is that I keep subjecting myself to this torture, when in theory at least it should be fairly easily avoidable through better time management.

LIke most other things, there’s most likely a combination of things involved. For one thing, beginning a writing project takes a lot of energy – authors speak of the ‘fear of the blank paper’ with good reason. And of course, writing is not exactly an effortless activity for me. It’s usually pretty exhausting, sometimes even agonizing, to take those vague and shapeless thoughts I have in my head and put them down on paper in actual words.**

So in the end, it’s probably got something to do with immediate rewards vs. future rewards. The immediate reward of doing something more interesting than writing this stuff simply outweigh the future reward of finishing the project. The problem, of course, is that eventually the punishment of having to work non-stop for a week will probably outweigh those immediate rewards – not to mention the possibility of the even greater punishment of having your editor shout at you for having missed the deadline. That’s not really something you want to experience.***

So is there some conclusion to this? Not really, I guess I guess this is just me procrastinating even further.**** But I would love to hear your thoughts on this interesting psychological mechanism and suggestions for fighting it.


* – No, I don’t really understand that simile, either. Just smile and nod.

** – Or on Word document, to be exact.

*** – Trust me on this.

**** – The irony of sitting around writing a blog entry to avoid writing something else is not lost on me.

Welcome, gentle and worthy reader, to Vox in Deserto – Musings of a Malpracticing Medievalist, this being a repositorium of short texts* providing both edifying and entertaining commentary on a variety of issues.**

Expect to see here, in particular, discussions relating to medieval scholarship and culture, but also contemporary issues such as politics, religion, culture, personal events, and of course those truly obscure findings and bits of knowledge which are found in any proper blog.

For as the Venerable Bede wrote, should history tell of good men and their good estate, the thoughtful listener is spurred on to imitate the good; should it record the evil ends of wicked men, no less effectually the devout and earnest listener is kindled to eschew what is harmful and perverse, and himself with greater care pursue those things which he has learned to be good and pleasing in the sight of God.***

Let us therefore in this quote discover the kanon by which this blog will be measured.


* – Or a “blog” in the vernacular.

** – And with a frequency determined by the author’s need for procrastination at any given time.

*** – Bede, Historia Ecclesiatica, praefatio

Small Musings

  • RT @RegretInform: We regret to inform you that in an alternate universe, the President of the United States, Ms. Hilary Rodham Clinton, has… 7 hours ago
  • ...🔤 "Input Symbol For Latin Letters" (U+1F524). Try not to confuse this one with 🔡 "Input Symbol For Latin Small L…… 8 hours ago
  • ...🔠 "Input Symbol For Latin Capital Letters" (U+1F520), which later in turn was kicked off the top of the podium by... 8 hours ago
  • 🚡 "Aerial Tramway" (U+1F6A1) was until last year officially the least used emoji on twitter dot com. It was displaced by... #WorldEmojiDay 8 hours ago
  • (This concludes our review of 'Black and White Square Emojis') (There will be a test.) 8 hours ago
View Andreas Kjeldsen's profile on LinkedIn
View Andreas Kjeldsen's profile on LinkedIn
Add to Technorati Favorites

My Library