De origine actibusque Getarum ("The Origin and Deeds of the
Getae/Goths"[n 1]), or the Getica, written in
Late Latin by
Jordanes (or Iordanes/Jornandes) in or shortly after 551 AD, claims
to be a summary of a voluminous account by
Cassiodorus of the origin
and history of the Gothic people, which is now lost. However, the
extent to which
Jordanes actually used the work of
unknown. It is significant as the only remaining contemporaneous
resource that gives the full story of the origin and history of the
Goths. Another aspect of this work is its information about the early
history and the customs of Slavs.
1 Synopsis of the work
2 Importance and credibility
2.1 Similarities with Gutasaga
4.3 Authors cited by Getica
5 The late Latin of Jordanes
9 External links
10 English translation
Synopsis of the work
Getica begins with a geography/ethnography of the North,
Scandza (16-24). He lets the history of the Goths
commence with the emigration of
Berig with three ships from
Gothiscandza (25, 94), in a distant past. In the pen of
Cassiodorus), Herodotus' Getian demi-god
Zalmoxis becomes a king of
Jordanes tells how the
Goths sacked "
Troy and Ilium"
just after they had recovered somewhat from the war with Agamemnon
(108). They are also said to have encountered the Egyptian pharaoh
Vesosis (47). The less fictional part of Jordanes' work begins when
Goths encounter Roman military forces in the 3rd century AD. The
work concludes with the defeat of the
Goths by the Byzantine general
Jordanes concludes the work by stating that he writes to
honour those who were victorious over the
Goths after a history of
Importance and credibility
Because the original work of
Cassiodorus has not survived, the work of
Jordanes is one of the most important sources for the period of the
migration of the European tribes, and the
particular, from the 3rd century CE.
Cassiodorus had claimed to have
the Gothic "folk songs" — carmina prisca (Latin) — as an important
source; recent scholarship regards this as highly
questionable.[page needed] Its main purpose was to give the
Gothic ruling class a glorious past, to match the past of the
senatorial families of Roman Italy.
Jordanes stated that
Getae are the same as the Goths, on the testimony
of Orosius Paulus. A controversial passage identifies the ancient
people of Venedi mentioned by Tacitus,
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder and Ptolemy,
Slavs of the 6th century. As early as 1844, it has been
used by eastern European scholars to support the idea of the existence
of a Slavic ethnicity long before the last phase of the Late Roman
period. Others have rejected this view, based on the absence of
concrete archaeological and historiographical data.
The book is important to some medieval historians because it mentions
the campaign in
Gaul of one Riothamus, "King of the Brettones," who
was a possible source of inspiration for the early stories of King
One of the major questions concerning the historicity of the work is
whether the identities mentioned are as ancient as stated or date from
a later time. The evidence allows a wide range of views, the most
skeptical being that the work is mainly mythological, or if Jordanes
did exist and is the author, that he describes peoples of the 6th
century only. According to the latter, his main source's credibility
is questionable for a number of reasons. First, the originality of his
main source, Cassiodorus, is debatable because large part of it
consists of culling of ancient Greek and Latin authors for
descriptions of peoples who might have been Goths. Not only that
but it seems that
Jordanes has distorted Cassiodorus's narrative by
presenting us a cursory abridgement of the latter, mixed with 6th
century ethnic names.
Some scholars claim, that while acceptance of
Jordanes at face value
may be too naive, a totally skeptical view is not warranted. For
Jordanes says that the
Goths originated in
BC. Austrian historian Herwig Wolfram, believes that there might be a
kernel of truth in that claim, if we assume that a clan of the Gutae
Scandinavia long before the establishment of the
Amali in the
leadership of the Goths. This clan might have contributed to the
ethnogenesis of the
Gutones in east
Pomerania (see Wielbark
culture). Another example is the name of the king
David S. Potter thinks is genuine because, since it doesn't appear in
the fictionalized genealogy of Gothic kings given by Jordanes, he must
have found it in a genuine 3rd-century source.
Danish scholar Arne Søby Christensen on the other hand claims that
Getica was an entirely fabricated account, and that the origin of
Goths in the book is a construction based on popular Greek and
Roman myths as well as a misinterpretation of recorded names from
Northern Europe. The purpose of this fabrication, according to
Christensen, was to establish a glorious identity for the peoples that
had recently gained power in post-Roman Europe. Canadian scholar
Walter Goffart suggests another incentive:
Getica was part of a
conscious plan by emperor
Justinian and the propaganda machine at his
court. He wanted to affirm that
Goths (and their barbarian cousins)
did not belong to the Roman world, thus justifying the claims of the
Roman Empire to the western part of the latter.
Similarities with Gutasaga
The migration of the
Scandinavia however bears some
similarities with the story of the Gutasaga, which tells of an
emigration that is associated with the historical migration of the
Goths during the Migration period:
This Thielvar had a son called Hafthi. And Hafthi's wife was called
Whitestar. Those two were the first to settle on Gotland. The first
night they slept together she dreamt that three snakes were coiled in
her lap. And it seemed to her that they slid out of her lap. She told
this dream to her husband Hafthi. He interpreted it thus:
"All is bound with bangles, it will be inhabited, this land, and we
shall have three sons."
While still unborn, he gave them all names:
"Guti will own Gotland, Graip will be the second, and Gunfiaun third."
These later divided Gotland into three parts, so that Graip the eldest
got the northern third, Guti the middle third, and Gunfjaun the
youngest had the south. Then, over a long time, the people descended
from these three multiplied so much that the land couldn't support
them all. So they selected every third person by lot to leave, with
the right to keep and take away with them everything they owned except
for their land. They were unwilling to leave then, but went to instead
Torsburgen and settled there. But afterwards the country (i.e.
Gotland) would not tolerate them, and drove them away.
Then they went away to Fårö and settled there. They couldn't support
themselves in that place, so they went to a certain island off the
coast of Estland, called Dagö, and settled there and built a town
that can still be seen. But they couldn't support themselves there
either, so they went up the river Dvina, up through Russia. They went
so far that they came to the land of the Greeks (i.e. the Byzantine
empire). They asked leave of the Greek king to stay there while the
moon waxed and waned. The king granted that, thinking it was just for
one month. Then after a month, he wanted to send them away, but they
answered that the moon waxed and waned for ever and always, and so
they said they were allowed to stay. Word of this dispute of theirs
reached the queen. She said, "My lord king, you granted them
permission to dwell while the moon waxed and waned; now that's for
ever and always, so you can't take it off them." So they settled
there, and live there still, and still have something of our language.
Goths should have gone "to the land of the Greeks" is
consistent with their first appearance in classical sources: Eusebius
of Caesarea reported that they devastated "Macedonia, Greece, the
Pontus, and Asia" in 263.
The emigration would have taken place in the 1st century AD, and loose
contact with their homeland would have been maintained for another two
centuries, the comment that the emigrant's language "still has
something" in common shows awareness of dialectal separation.[citation
needed] The events would have needed to be transmitted orally for
almost a millennium before the text was written down.
The mention of the Dvina river is in good agreement with the Wielbark
Culture. Historically, the
Goths followed the Vistula, but during the
Viking Age, the Dvina-
Dniepr waterway succeeded the
Vistula as the
main trade route to
Greece for the Gutes (or Gotar in standard Old
Norse), and it is not surprising that it also replaced the
the migration traditions.
A manuscript of the text was rediscovered in
Vienna in 1442 by the
Italian humanist Enea Silvio Piccolomini. Its editio princeps was
issued in 1515 by Konrad Peutinger, followed by many other
The classic edition is that of 19th-century German classical scholar
Theodor Mommsen (in Monumenta Germaniae Historica, auctores antiqui,
v. ii.). The best surviving manuscript was the
written in Heidelberg, Germany, probably in the 8th century, but this
was destroyed in a fire at Mommsen's house on July 7, 1880.
Subsequently, another 8th-century manuscript was discovered,
containing chapters I to XLV, and is now the 'Codice Basile' at the
Archivio di Stato in Palermo. The next of the manuscripts in
historical value are the Vaticanus Palatinus of the 10th century, and
the Valenciennes manuscript of the 9th century.
Jordanes' work had been well known prior to Mommsen's 1882 edition. It
was cited in Edward Gibbon's classic 6 volumes of The History of the
Decline and Fall of the
Roman Empire (1776), and had been earlier
Degoreus Whear (1623) who refers to both Jordanes' De
regnorum ac temporum successione and to De rebus Geticis.
In his Preface,
Jordanes presents his plan
"...to condense in my own style in this small book the twelve volumes
of [Cassiodorus] Senator on the origin and deeds of the
Goths] from olden times to the present day."
Jordanes admits that he did not then have direct access to
Cassiodorus's book, and could not remember the exact words, but that
he felt confident that he had retained the substance in its
entirety. He goes on to say that he added relevant passages from
Latin and Greek sources, composed the Introduction and Conclusion, and
inserted various things of his own authorship. Due to this mixed
origin, the text has been examined in an attempt to sort out the
sources for the information it presents.
Main article: Jordanes
Former notarius to a Gothic magister militum Gunthigis,
have been in a position to know traditions concerning the Gothic
peoples without necessarily relying on anyone else. However, there is
no evidence for this in the text, and some of the instances where the
work refers to carmina prisca can be shown to depend on classical
Main article: Cassiodorus
Cassiodorus was a native Italian (Squillace, Bruttium), who rose to
become advisor and secretary to the Gothic kings in various high
offices. His and the Goths' most successful years were perhaps the
reign of Theodoric. The policy of Theodoric's government at that time
was reconciliation and in that spirit he incorporated Italians into
the government whenever he could. He asked
Cassiodorus to write a work
Goths that would, in essence, demonstrate their antiquity,
nobility, experience and fitness to rule.
Theodoric died in 526 and
Cassiodorus went on to serve his successors
in the same capacity. He had not by any means forgotten the task
assigned to him by his former king. In 533 a letter ostensibly written
Athalaric to the senate in Rome, but ghosted by Cassiodorus,
mentions the great work on the Goths, now complete, in which
Cassiodorus "restored the
Amali with the illustriousness of their
race." The work must have been written at Ravenna, seat of the Gothic
kings, between 526 at latest and 533.
Cassiodorus did with the manuscripts after that remains unknown.
The fact that
Jordanes once obtained them from a steward indicates
that the wealthy
Cassiodorus was able to hire at least one full-time
custodian of them and other manuscripts of his; i.e., a private
librarian (a custom not unknown even today).
Jordanes says in the preface to
Getica that he obtained them from the
librarian for three days in order to read them again (relegi). The
times and places of these readings have been the concern of many
scholars, as this information possibly bears on how much of
based on Cassiodorus.
There are two main theories, one expressed by the Mierow source below,
and one by the O'Donnell source below. Mierow's is earlier and does
not include a letter cited by O'Donnell.
Gothic sovereignty came to an end with the reconquest of Italy by
Belisarius, military chief of staff for Justinian, ending in 539.
Cassiodorus' last ghost writing for the Gothic kings was done for
Witiges, who was removed to
Constantinople in 540. A number of token
kings ruled from there while
Belisarius established that the Goths
were not going to reinvade and retake Italy (which was however taken
again by the
Lombards after Justinian's death).
Cassiodorus retired in 540 to his home town of Squillace, where he
used his wealth to build a monastery with school and library,
Authors cited by Getica
The events, persons and peoples of
Getica are put forward as being up
to many centuries prior to the time of Jordanes. Taken at face value,
they precede any other history of Scandinavia.
Jordanes does cite some writers well before his time, to whose works
he had access but we do not, and other writers whose works are still
extant. Mierow gives a summary of these, which is reviewed below, and
also states other authors he believed were used by
Jordanes but were
not cited in
Getica (refer to the Mierow source cited below). Mierow's
list of cited authors is summarized as follows:
Ablabius. Otherwise unknown historian, author of the work Gothorum
gentis ("of the Gothic people"), now lost.
Dexippus on the
Vandals and the Heruli.
Dio Cassius or Dio Chrysostom, author of another Getica.
Description of Britain in Jordanes.
Fabius. Otherwise unknown, author of a work including the siege of
Ravenna, now missing.
Josephus in IV.29, brief mention of the
Goths as Scyths.
Livy, brief mention in II.10.
Lucan on the Amali, V.43.
Pompeius Trogus, now known only in Justinus' epitome of Historiae
Priscus. Events concerning Attila.
Getica Part III.
Strabo. Authority on Britain.
Symmachus. Copies of his copies from
Julius Capitolinus on Maximinus.
Tacitus. Authority on Britain.
The late Latin of Jordanes
Late Latin of
Jordanes evidences a certain variability in
the structure of the language which has been taken as an indication
that the author no longer had a clear standard of correctness.
Jordanes tells us in
Getica that he interrupted work on the Romana to
write Getica, and then finished Romana.
Jordanes states in Romana that
he wrote it in the 24th year of the emperor Justinian, which began
April 1, 551. In
Getica he mentions a plague of nine years previous.
This is probably the Plague of Justinian, that began in Egypt in 541,
Constantinople in 542 and went on to Italy in 543. The time is
too early to identify a direction of change toward any specific
Romance language, as none had appeared yet. This variability, however,
preceded the appearance of the first French, Italian, Spanish, etc.
After those languages developed, the scholastics gradually restored
classical Latin as a means of scholarly communication.
Jordanes refers to himself as agrammaticus before his conversion. This
obscure statement is sometimes taken to refer to his Latin.
Variability, however, characterizes all Late Latin, and besides, the
author was not writing just after his conversion (for the meaning of
the latter, see under Jordanes), but a whole career later, after
associating with many Latin speakers and having read many Latin books.
According to him, he should have been grammaticus by that time. More
likely, his style reflects the way Latin was under the Goths.
Some of the variabilities are as follows (Mierow):
Orthography. The spelling of many words differs from the classical,
Jordanes would certainly have known. For example, Grecia
replaces Graecia; Eoropam, Europam; Atriatici, Adriatici.
Inflection. Substantives migrate between declensions; verbs between
conjugations. Some common changes are fourth to second (lacu to laco),
second declension adjective to third (magnanimus to magnanimis),
i-stems to non-i-stems (mari to mare in the ablative).
change. Verbs may change voice.
One obvious change in a modern direction is the indeclinability of
many formerly declined nouns, such as corpus. Also, the -m accusative
ending disappears, leaving the preceding vowel or replacing it with -o
(Italian, Romanian), as in Danubio for Danubium.
Syntax. Case variability and loss of agreement in prepositional
phrases (inter Danubium Margumque fluminibus), change of participial
tense (egressi .. et transeuntes), loss of subjunctive in favor of
indicative, loss of distinction between principal and subordinate
clauses, confusion of subordinating conjunctions.
Semantics. A different vocabulary appears: germanus for frater,
proprius for suus, civitas for urbs, pelagus for mare, etc.
^ G. Costa, 32. Also: De Rebus Geticis: O. Seyffert, 329; De Getarum
(Gothorum) Origine et Rebus Gestis: W. Smith, vol 2 page 607
^ a b Jordanes, The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, translated by C.
^ Peter Heather,
Goths and Romans 332-489, Oxford 1991, pp. 47-49
(year 552), Walter Goffart, The Narrators of Barbarian History,
Princeton 1988, p. 98 (year 554).
^ Herwig Wolfram, in Die Goten, München 2001 (or its English
translation, History of the Goths, University of California Press
1988), consistently uses Origo Gothica as a name not only for the work
of Cassiodorus, but also, very confusingly, for the Getica. The source
is Cassiodorus, Variae 9.25.5: "Originem Gothicam fecit esse historiam
Romanam", which can be interpreted in different ways (see Walter
Goffart, Barbarian Tides: The Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire
(Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), p. 57-59).
Cassiodorus' lost work is more commonly referred to as Historia
Gothorum or History of the
Goths by modern scholarship (A.H. Merrills,
History and Geography in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: CUP, 2005), p. 102
^ a b A. S. Christensen
^ Pavel Josef Schafarik, Slawiche Alterthümmer, Leipzig, 1844, vol 1,
^ F. Curta, 7. See also F. Curta, 11-13 for an analysis of Schafarik's
ideas in the context of his age as well as their revival by later
^ P. Geary, 60-61
^ F. Curta, 40
^ W. Goffart, 59-61
^ W. Herwig, 40. Walter Goffart, 59-61, harshly criticized this view
^ D. S. Potter, 245
^ Questia.com Review of Cassiodorus, Jordanes, and the History of the
Goths: Studies in a Migration Myth by Peter S. Wells
^ Walter Goffart, 70
^ Gutasagan Gutalagens (Vikingatidens ABC) Archived 2012-03-06 at the
^ W. Thomas, M. Gamble, Pp vi, 202, 59
^ W. Smith, "Jornandes"
^ Lowe, C.L.A. XII.1741: 'saec. VIII, 2nd half'
Degoreus Whear (1623), De Ratione Et Methodo Legendi Historias
C. Mierow (1915), Preface;
Jordanes writes: "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."
^ O'Donnell, 223-240
^ Brian Croke,
Cassiodorus and the
Jordanes in Classical
Philology, Vol. 82, No. 2 (Apr., 1987), pp. 117-134
^ Late antique writers commonly used
Goths mixing the
peoples in the process.
Christensen, Arne Søby. Cassiodorus, Jordanes, and the History of the
Goths. Studies in a Migration Myth, 2002, ISBN 978-87-7289-710-3
Costa, Gustavo. Le antichità germaniche nella cultura italiana da
Machiavelli a Vico, 1977. ISBN 88-7088-001-X
Curta, Florin (2001). The Making of the Slavs: History and Archaeology
of the Lower Danube Region, c. 500–700. Cambridge: Cambridge
Geary, Patric. The Myth of Nations, the Medieval Origins of Europe,
Princeton University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-691-11481-1
Goffart, Walter. Barbarian Tides, The Migration Age and the Later
Roman Empire, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006,
Jordanes. The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, translated by C. Mierow,
Princeton University Press, 1908
O'Donnell, James J. The Aims of Jordanes, Historia, 1982, vol 31,
Potter, David Stone. The
Roman Empire at Bay AD 180–395, Routledge,
2004, ISBN 0-415-10058-5
Seyffert, Oscar. Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, edited by Henry
Nettleship and J. E. Sandys, 1894
Smith, William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
Thomas, William and Gamble, Miller. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica:
Its Inheritance in Source-valuation and Criticism, Washington:
Catholic University of America, 1927
Wolfram, Herwig. History of the
Goths (transl. by Thomas J. Dunlap),
University of California Press, 1988, ISBN 0-520-06983-8
IORDANIS DE ORIGINE ACTIBUSQUE GETARUM
"The Origin and Deeds of the Goths", trans. Charles C. Mierow, with
introductory note by J. Vanderspoel, Department of Greek, Latin and
Ancient History, University of Calgary
C. Mierow translation online
Charles Christopher Mierow (translator). The Gothic History of
Jordanes. In English Version with an Introduction and a Commentary,
1915. Reprinted 2006. Evolution Publishing, ISBN 1-889758-77-9.
Charles C. Mierow. The Gothic History of Jordanes. Princeton:
University Press, 1915. (Reprinted at Cambridge: Speculum Historiae,