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The Ostrogoths (Latin: Ostrogothi, Austrogothi) were a Roman-era Germanic people. In the 5th century, they followed the Visigoths in creating one of the two great Gothic kingdoms within the Roman Empire, based upon the large Gothic populations who had settled in the Balkans in the 4th century, having crossed the Lower Danube. While the Visigoths had formed under the leadership of Alaric I, the new Ostrogothic political entity which came to rule Italy was formed in the Balkans under the influence of the Amal Dynasty, the family of Theodoric the Great.

After the death of Attila and collapse of the Hunnic empire represented by the Battle of Nedao in 453, the Amal family began to form their kingdom in Pannonia. Emperor Zeno played these Pannonian Goths off against the Thracian Goths, but instead the two groups united after the death of the Thracian leader Theoderic Strabo and his son Recitach. Zeno then backed Theodoric to invade Italy and replace Odoacer there, whom he had previously supported as its king. In 493 Theodoric the Great established the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy, when he defeated Odoacer's forces, and killed his rival at a banquet.

Following the death of Theoderic, there was a period of instability, eventually tempting the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian to declare war on the Ostrogoths in 535, in an effort to restore the former western provinces of the Roman Empire. Initially, the Byzantines were successful, but under the leadership of Totila, the Goths reconquered most of the lost territory until Totila's death at the Battle of Taginae. The war lasted for almost 21 years and caused enormous damage across Italy, reducing the population of the peninsula. Any remaining Ostrogoths in Italy were absorbed into the Lombards, who established a kingdom in Italy in 568.

As with other Gothic groups, the history of the peoples who made them up before they reached the Roman Balkans is difficult to reconstruct in detail. However, the Ostrogoths are associated with the earlier Greuthungi. The Ostrogoths themselves were more commonly referred to simply as Goths even in the 5th century, but before then they were referred to once, in a poem by Claudian which associates them with a group of Greuthungi, settled as a military unit in Phrygia. Furthermore, the 6th century historian of the Goths Jordanes also equated the Ostrogoths of his time to the Goths ruled by King Ermanaric in the 4th century, who the Roman writer Ammianus Marcellinus had called Greuthungi, and described as living between the Dniester and Don rivers. Huns and Alans attacked the Goths from the east and large groups of Goths moved into the Roman empire, while others became subservient to the Huns.

Goths[After the death of Attila and collapse of the Hunnic empire represented by the Battle of Nedao in 453, the Amal family began to form their kingdom in Pannonia. Emperor Zeno played these Pannonian Goths off against the Thracian Goths, but instead the two groups united after the death of the Thracian leader Theoderic Strabo and his son Recitach. Zeno then backed Theodoric to invade Italy and replace Odoacer there, whom he had previously supported as its king. In 493 Theodoric the Great established the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy, when he defeated Odoacer's forces, and killed his rival at a banquet.

Following the death of Theoderic, there was a period of instability, eventually tempting the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian to declare war on the Ostrogoths in 535, in an effort to restore the former western provinces of the Roman Empire. Initially, the Byzantines were successful, but under the leadership of Totila, the Goths reconquered most of the lost territory until Totila's death at the Battle of Taginae. The war lasted for almost 21 years and caused enormous damage across Italy, reducing the population of the peninsula. Any remaining Ostrogoths in Italy were absorbed into the Lombards, who established a kingdom in Italy in 568.

As with other Gothic groups, the history of the peoples who made them up before they reached the Roman Balkans is difficult to reconstruct in detail. However, the Ostrogoths are associated with the earlier Greuthungi. The Ostrogoths themselves were more commonly referred to simply as Goths even in the 5th century, but before then they were referred to once, in a poem by Claudian which associates them with a group of Greuthungi, settled as a military unit in Phrygia. Furthermore, the 6th century historian of the Goths Jordanes also equated the Ostrogoths of his time to the Goths ruled by King Ermanaric in the 4th century, who the Roman writer Ammianus Marcellinus had called Greuthungi, and described as living between the Dniester and Don rivers. Huns and Alans attacked the Goths from the east and large groups of Goths moved into the Roman empire, while others became subservient to the Huns.

The Ostrogoths were one of several peoples referred to more generally as Goths. The Goths appear in Roman records starting in the third century, in the regions north of the Lower Danube and Black Sea.[1] They competed for influence and Roman subsidies with peoples who had lived longer in the area, such as the Carpi, and various Sarmatians, and they contributed men to the Roman military.[2] Based on their Germanic language and material culture it is believed that their Gothic culture derived from cultures originally from the direction of the Vistula river, in the north, and now in Poland.[3] By the third century, the Goths were already in sub-groups with their own names, because the Tervingi, who bordered on the Roman Empire and the Carpathian mountains, were mentioned separately on at least one occasion.[4]

The Ostrogoths, not mentioned until later, are associated with the Greuthungi who lived further east. The dividing line between the Tervingi and the Greuthungi, was reported by Ammianus to be the Dniester River, and to the east of the Greuthungi were Alans living near the River Don.[5]

Gothic language

The Ostrogoths in Italy used a Gothic language which had both spoken and written forms, and which is best attested today in the surviving translation of the Bible by Ulfilas. Goths were a minority in all the places they lived within the Roman empire, and no Gothic language or distinct Gothic ethnicity has survived. On the other hand, the Gothic language texts which the Ostrogothic kingdom helped preserve are the only eastern Germanic language with "continuous texts" surviving, and the earliest significant remnants of any Germanic language.[a]

Etymology

Ostrogothic bow-fibulae (c. 500) from Emilia-Romagna, Italy

The first part of the word "Ostrogoth" comes from a Germanic root "*auster-" meaning eastern. According to the proposal of Wolfram, this was originally a boastful tribal name meaning "Goths of the rising sun", or "Goths glorified by the rising sun".[8][b] By the 6th century, however, Jordanes, for example, believed that the Visigoths and Ostrogoths were two contrasting names simply meaning western and eastern Goths.[4][9]

History

The Greuthungi and Ostrogothi before the Huns

The nature of the divisions of the Goths before the arrival of the Huns is uncertain, but throughout all their history the Ostrogoths are only mentioned by that name very rarely, and normally in very uncertain contexts. Among other Gothic group names however, they are associated with the Greuthungi. Scholarly opinions are divided about this connection. Historian Herwig Wolfram sees these as two names for one people as will be discussed below. Peter Heather, in contrast, has written that:

Ostrogoths in the sense of the group led by Theodoric to Italy stand at the end of complex processes of fragmentation and unification involving a variety of groups - mostly but not solely Gothic it seems - and the better, more contemporary, evidence argues against the implication derived from Jordanes that Ostrogoths are Greuthungi by another name.[10]

Some historians go much further than Heather, questioning whether we can assume any single ethnicity, even Gothic, which united the Ostrogoths before they were politically united by the Amal clan.[c]

Dniester River, and to the east of the Greuthungi were Alans living near the River Don.[5]

The Ostrogoths in Italy used a Gothic language which had both spoken and written forms, and which is best attested today in the surviving translation of the Bible by Ulfilas. Goths were a minority in all the places they lived within the Roman empire, and no Gothic language or distinct Gothic ethnicity has survived. On the other hand, the Gothic language texts which the Ostrogothic kingdom helped preserve are the only eastern Germanic language with "continuous texts" surviving, and the earliest significant remnants of any Germanic language.[a]

Etymology