The Story of the Goths
Publisher: Perennial Press
More than three hundred years before the birth of Christ, a traveller from the Greek colony of Marseilles, named Pytheas, made known to the civilized world the existence of a people called Guttones, who lived near the Frische Haff, in the country since known as East Prussia, and traded in the amber that was gathered on the Baltic shores. For four whole centuries these amber merchants of the Baltic are heard of no more. The elder Pliny, a Roman writer who died in the year 79 after Christ, tells us that in his time they were still dwelling in the same neighbourhood; and a generation later, Tacitus, the greatest of Roman historians, twice mentions their name, though he spells it rather differently as Gotones. In his little book on Germany, he says—in that brief pointed style of his which it is so difficult to translate into English—"Beyond the Lygians live the Gotones among whom the power of the kings has already become greater than among the other Germans, though it is not yet too great for them to be a free people." And in his Annals he mentions that they gave shelter to a prince belonging to another German nation, who had been driven from his own country by the oppression of a foreign conqueror. These two brief notices are all that Tacitus, who has told us so much that is interesting about the peoples of ancient Germany, has to say of the Gotones. But if he could only have guessed what was the destiny in store for this obscure and distant tribe, we may be sure that they would have received a far larger share of his attention. For these Gotones were the same people who afterwards became so famous under the name of Goths, who, a few centuries later, crowned their kings in Rome itself, and imposed their laws on the whole of Southern Europe from the Adriatic to the Western sea.
It is the story of these Goths that in the present volume we are going to relate, from the time when they were still living almost unnoticed in their northern home near the Baltic and the Vistula, down to the time when their separate history becomes blended in the history of the southern nations whom they conquered, and by whom they were at last absorbed. In many respects the career of this people is strikingly different from that of any other nation of equal historic renown. 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 wisest and most beneficent ruler that Italy has known for ages; 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...