There are a number of precepts (that is, in this instance, royal charters) from the Carolingian kings of the Franks to the Spanish March of their empire, Catalonia more or less, that are addressed to or refer to people called Goths. They are often paired with ‘Hispani‘, which appears to refer fairly clearly to people who had come from the Muslim-occupied part of the Iberian peninsula, unfailingly named as Hispania in Latin sources from within and without the area.1 That’s simple enough, but who are the Goths?
How some see the sack of Rome in 410 by the Goths. I reckon this is unfair on the Vandals' 455 attempt myself.
By the time that Charles the Bald was praising these people for their loyalty to him during the rebellion of 874-5, there had been a group of people called ‘Goths’ in what we now call Spain for more than four centuries. That is, roughly, sixteen generations, which makes any actual ethnic continuity in a land where the immigrants can never have been more than a tiny minority a challenge to assert or explain, however hard your Traditionskerne might be.2 If it were earlier we might be able to line up those weary opponents, Heather and Halsall, and Peter Heather would presumably tell us that a migrating people really can retain an identity that is more than pure assertion, somehow, and Guy Halsall would probably make a detailed case that might be ultimately brewed down to “for heaven’s sake, they’re an army with a name, that’s all”, but neither of them, I imagine, would want to maintain their irreconcilable views past not just the conversion of the Visigoths to Catholicism in 589, the abolition of the legal distinction between Goths and Romans in the Visigothic kingdom in circa 650, the Muslim conquest of the peninsula in 711 (and of what would become Catalonia in 714), the Frankish move into once-`Gothic’ Septimania in 759 and finally the conquest of Barcelona in 801.3 Even if someone was calling themselves a Goth at that point, it would be a claim with a very different value to claiming membership of Alaric’s warband. Among those differences would be residence versus immigration, difference of ethnicity from the king rather than sharing it with him, use of the Visigothic Law versus a presumably-Roman military discipline, and we could think of more I’m sure. The values of claiming this status had changed, a lot. So, who were they who so claimed?
Arabic manuscript recording the Pact of Tudmir, by which Murcia was incorporated into al-Andalus and the Goths left their own law
One suggestion might be that they were the people who lived by the Visigothic Law, a kind of personality-of-the-law argument in reverse, but that fails to explain the differentiation from Hispani, who presumably also did that as the Muslims had protected the Christians’ law in their various pacts of settlement.4 The traditional answer has been that the Goths were the resident, as opposed to immigrant, population of Barcelona and its environs, but this is substantially powered by neo-Gothic agendas imagined into the sources by twentieth-century historians, I feel; there was a lot of interest in managing to claim a Gothic inheritance, and it gets used to explain far too many things.5 There must be a lot of people not covered by that, and why it was sensible or advantageous for the Carolingians to stress what could be seen as a rival identity even as late as Charles the Bald is hard to explain. (And let’s remember that to the Muslims, these guys were all al-Franja, the Franks.) But it keeps turning up: in 759, the Chronicle of Moissac says, it was the ‘Goths’ who expelled the Muslims from Narbonne for the Franks, in 801 it was the ‘Goths’ and the Franks who retook Barcelona according to the Life of Emperor Louis by the Astronomer, in 827 it is the ‘Goths’ who have to be pacified in the rebellion of Aizó and apparently, in 844 and 874, it was ‘Goths’ whom instructions of Charles the Bald to Barcelona would reach.6
Cathedral of SS Just & Pastor, Narbonne; the other kind of Gothic (from Wikimedia Commons)
One suggestion to this dilemma came from the famous scholar of Spanish monasticism, Jesus Lalinde Abadia, who came up with the following ingenious idea: the first Gothic settlers were based on fiscal land from which they drew renders as federate soldiers, he said, but these grants, once for service, presumably became hereditary before very long. If those lots were somehow kept in being, and somehow continued to be associated with military service, he argued, then they would conceivably be the lands of the Goths, and someone who held them, who would presumably do so by a claimed hereditary descent, would then be a ‘Goth’, albeit more by reason of occupation and dwelling place than actual biology.7 He backed this up by pointing out that the term only crops up referring to groups in cities, basically at Narbonne, Girona and Barcelona, and suggested that what we actually have here is the city garrisons. It’s as if, for Londoners and those who’ve visited the Tower of London, `Beefeater‘ was an ethnicity, or had been mistaken for one, or perhaps more contemporaneously, as if the Varangian Guard in Constantinople claimed to all be from Sweden.8
Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London in ancient tribal costume. It's a little known fact that the E II R legend actually stands for "East of the Rhine", the middle two minims symbolising a bridge.
Let’s go back to Narbonne for a moment, though. Passing through there at an uncertain date early in the ninth century while operating as a missus dominici for Emperor Louis the Pious, Bishop Theodulf of Orléans penned a few lines on the place, and he was a Goth himself (whatever he meant by that) and so ought to have been informed. He does not, however, say that Narbonne was a Gothic city, it’s more complicated than that. Here it is:
Mox sedes, Narbona, tuas urbemque decoram
Tangimus, occurrit quo mihi læta cohors
Reliquiae Getici populi, simul Hespera turba,
Me consanguineo fit duce læta sibi
I won’t try and translate his verse as a whole—there are other people who do that better than I can—but the key phrase is “cohors reliquiae Getici populi”, ‘a band of the remnant of the Gothic people’.9 That is, pace the nationalists, not a regional identity, no blanket coverage of the inhabitants of an ancient Gothic territory; clearly, not everyone in Narbonne is a Goth, what with that `Hesperian crowd’ also milling around. It might easily be read as the garrison, however, especially as cohors is a military term. But Theodulf seems to be claiming kinship with these people, and he was not a military man. I don’t see how this can be read as anything other than an ethnic, read descent, community, whether claimed or somehow real, and whether or not it’s confined to a band of soldiers. Given all this, I can’t now take either `professional’ or `descent community’ reading by themselves; they must be assumed together. We might here picture the sort of British upper-class member who will tell you that his or her family came over with the Conqueror. That’s even more generations involved, and I think it now fairly ridiculous to care about, but these `Goths’ were in positions of power, and kings addressed them: even if we now think it really very unlikely that they could genuinely have been and have any basis to think of themselves as descendants of Alaric’s warband – “my family came over the mountains with Euric, you know” – we probably shouldn’t assume that it was a silly thing to claim in those days. Maybe, ultimately, the upper class here was as nutty about descent as ours are. We don’t have to believe them to believe they believed it.
Post scriptum: matters of barbarians have become an Internet hot topic these last few days following Guy Halsall’s challenge to battle that you can read here. There are reasons I don’t want to speak to that debate that you can all probably work out, but if I were to follow the suggestion of Steve Muhlberger in response to it and say, “what did these people need the barbarians for?”, I think I would say this is not about barbarians. Theodulf was proud to own to belonging among these people and I don’t think he saw himself as a barbarian. I think it’s more about an identity that has the venerability of age and a Classical heritage to it, however paradoxical that may seem to those who think Goths = 410. I might suggest that for the people in this period the way they escaped that category is by seeing conversion as a redemption from barbarism as well as paganism, but that would be much more hypothetical; Isidore of Seville seems to lean that way but he was not, dammit, spokesman for the whole early Middle Ages. So as close as I’m going to get to that debate right now is that I might suggest that by this time, Theodulf didn’t need the barbarians; he needed the Goths and those weren’t the same thing for him. But this is the ninth century, and the game had clearly long changed by then.
1. The Frankish royal documents to Catalonia were all edited by Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals in his Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya (Barcelona 1926-1952), and the ones that mention Goths are Arles III (Louis the Stammerer, 878), Particulars XXI (Charles the Bald, 854), XXII (Charles the Bald, X858) & XXIII (Charles the Bald, 858), Sant Julià del Munt I (Charles the Bald, 866, to some Goths and Basques who’ve just founded a monastery) & app. V (Charles the Bald, 844, but probably using a text of Charlemagne’s as model) & VII (Charles the Bald, 874). The apparent genesis of this usage in Charles the Bald’s time should be nuanced by the fact that very few documents from his predecessors survive, though many are known to have existed. On the other hand, it possibly is significant for what I’m about to argue that when addressing the citizens of Barcelona direct in 877 (ibid., ap. VIII) Charles didn’t use these terms. On the usage of Hispania for Muslim Spain, see most sanely Ann Christys, “The Transformation of Hispania after 711” in Hans-Werner Goetz, Jorg Jarnut & Walter Pohl (edd.), Regna and Gentes. The Relationship between Late Antique and Early Medieval Peoples and Kingdoms in the Transformation of the Roman World, Transformation of the Roman World 13 (London 2003), pp. 219-241.
2. The idea of Traditionskerne goes back to Reinhard Wenskus, Stammesbildung und Verfassung. Das Werden der frühmittelalterliche Gentes (Köln 1961), cit. G. Halsall, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568, Cambridge Medieval Textbooks (Cambridge 2007), p. 14 n. 26.
3. Peter Heather’s arguments are easiest to find with reference to the Goths in Heather, The Goths (Oxford 1996), unsurprisingly; for Guy, see Barbarian Migrations, esp. pp. 189-194 but also passim.
4. The pact of Tudmir for Murcia is translated as “The Treaty of Tudmir” in Barbara Rosenwein (ed.), Reading the Middle Ages: Sources from Europe, Byzantium, and the Islamic World (Peterborough ON 2006), p. 92. On it see Roger Collins, The Arab Conquest of Spain, 711-797 (Oxford 1989), pp. 39-41.
5. Observe the contest for the Gothic legacy between Castile and Catalonia in L. Suárez Fernández, “León y Catalunya: paralelismos y divergencias” and Federico Udina i Martorell, “El llegat i la consciència romano-gòtica. El nom d’hispània”, both in Udina (ed.), Symposium Internacional sobre els Orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991, 1992), also published as Memorias de le Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols. 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), II pp. 141-157 & 171-200 respectively; cf. Christys, “Transformation”, or Peter Linehan, History and Historians of Medieval Spain (Oxford 1993) for detached perspectives.
6. G. H. Pertz (ed.), “Chronicon Moissacense…” in idem (ed.), Monumenta Germaniae Historica… (Scriptores in folio) I (Hannover 1826), pp. 280-313, s. a. 759; ‘Astronomer’, “Vita Hludowici imperatoris“, ed. & transl. Ernst Tremp in Tremp (ed./transl.), Thegan: Die Taten Kaiser Ludwigs. Astronomus: Das Leben Kaiser Ludwigs, Monumenta Germaniae Historica… (Scriptores rerum germanicum in usum scholarum separatim editi LXIV (Hannover 1995), pp. 278-558, at cap. 13; Annales Regni Francorum, ed. F. Kurze in idem (ed.), Annales regni francorum inde ab a. 741 usque ad a. 829. Qui dicuntur Annales laurissenses maiores et Einhardi, MGH SRG VI (Hannover 1895), s. aa. 826, 827; and Abadal, Cataluna Carolíngia II, app. V & VII as above.
7. Jesus Lalinde Abadia, “Godos, hispanos y hostolenses en la órbita del rey de los Francos” in Udina, Symposium Internacional II, pp. 35-74.
8. For the Varangians you can now, I discover, see Raffaele d’Amato, The Varangian Guard, 988 – 1453, Men at Arms (Oxford 2010). I haven’t seen this but I’ve used other things from the series and they’re often surprisingly good considering they’re essentially non-academic in desired audience.
9. Theodulf of Orléans, “Versus contra iudices”, ed. Ernst Dümmler in idem (ed.), Poetae latini ævi karolini Vol. I, Monumenta Germaniae Historica… (Poetae latini medii ævi) I (Berlin 1881), pp. 493-517 at p. 497.