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“In the arts of war they are quite spectacular, fighting on horseback not only with spears but with javelins… they trust more in the swift running of their horses… ‘where the Getan goes, he goes with his horse’.” - The History of the Kings of the Goths, Isidore of Seville

The Goths were a confederation of tribes amongst the many that harassed the Eastern fringes of the Roman Empire in the region of the Black Sea, becoming a growing concern for the Romans in the 3rd century AD as they pillaged either side of the Danube. Growing interest in their economic and political potential, as well as their prowess in battle over the years, saw the Visigoths admitted as foederati under Constantine in 332 AD. But this was by no means a firm alliance: the Visigoths soundly defeated the Eastern Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 AD, and would later sack Rome itself in 410 AD.

By the advent of the Hunnic invasions, the discernible split in the Gothic people saw the (now Christian) Visigoths move further into Roman territory while the Ostrogoths sided with Attila’s forces. They would clash at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in Gaul in 451 AD, their superiority as cavalry over their foes honed over the last 50 years in performance and reputation.

Over time the two Gothic tribes further developed an identity and independence while they traversed Western Europe, each carving out their respective kingdoms in the wake of a severely crippled Roman Empire. The Ostrogoths would later settle in Italy and the surrounds until the successful campaign of Justinian I in the 6th century, which brought to an end not only the Ostrogothic kingdom but also to the Vandals in North Africa.

The Visigoths first settled briefly in Toulouse and ventured into the Iberian peninsula at the service of the Romans, vying against other tribes who had settled there in previous migratory waves, such as the Sueves, Alans and Vandals, and the provincial brigands of the bacaudae. Defeat by the Franks at the Battle of Vouille in 507 AD triggered the final stage of the Visigothic era, the establishment of the Visigothic Kingdom of Spain. From 568 AD, Leovigild formalised the court at Toledo and took control of Galicia from the Sueves and Spania from the Byzantines. The Visigothic Kingdom reached its prominence in the 6th and 7th centuries before falling to the Umayyad incursion between 711-14 AD.

by Christian Cuello

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