It all started with Jordanes who provides most of the literary evidence concerning the early history of the Goths. His De origine actibusque Getarum (551) is a Readers Digest version of the lost History by Cassiodorus (490-585).
Cassiodorus held several high offices under the reigns of Theoderic and Athalaric, the Ostrogoth rulers in Ravenna. I suppose he spoke the Gothic language. But scholars today question his claim that he based his history of the Goths on folk songs. More likely, he wanted to give the Gothic ruling class a glorious past matching that of Roman senatorial families. Cassiodorus probably used oral sources, but coming from a traditon of written sources, he might have known that he was putting the ‘story’ into History by merging these snippets into a coherent Whole.
It would not be the only time this happened. Geoffrey de Monmouth’s Historia Regum Brittaniae does the same by connecting the House Plantagenet to King Arthur, to name just one example.
We don’t know much about Jordanes, according to what he mentions in his Getica, he and his father held positions in the immediate surroundings of the leaders in the Alano-Ostrogothic tribal confederation in Moesia (Bulgaria) until Jordanes converted to the Catholic faith and took vows. His and his father’s name sound more Alan than Gothic to me.
Thus, we have the condensed version of a history that had an agenda, both written some 140 years after the incidents. The main tone of the Getica is friendly to the Goths whom Jordanes as well as Cassiodorus interpret as having tried to find a peaceful integration into the Roman Empire.
This is what Jordanes says about Alaric’s funeral:
As mentioned in part 1, though Emperor Valens ruled the eastern Roman Empire, his strangeness led to a paranoia that the world was against him. He had more in common with his enemies the Goths (especially the shared Arian religion) than with his own people. As a result, many Catholics predicted that he would burn.
What led to the burning?
Valens made two mistakes.
Actually, they are one—underestimating.
Planning to recruit Goths into the army, Valens allowed the Tervingi clan (one of the two largest Gothic peoples) to immigrate. Though sources differ on exactly how many Goths crossed the Danube to live in the empire, they all agree that Rome was not prepared. Some guesses are as high as a hundred thousand people. Valens must have underestimated their number, for the empire could not provide to feed them all, let alone give them land. The Goths were placed in what we would now call concentration camps, holding areas where they were cheated and abused. The price of meat? They could purchase a dog carcass by selling a child into slavery.
Think of Rome’s armies and you’ll probably conjure up an image of the typical 1st century AD legionary. In that era, the empire was bold, brash, burgeoning and seemingly unstoppable. The iconic lorica segmentata (segmented armour vest) symbolised the empire’s military might and technical superiority. But Rome’s dominance was not to last . . .
The Visigoth sack of Rome in 410 A.D. was a milestone in the fall of the Empire. Not since Hannibal reached Rome in 218 B.C. had an invading force threatened the city. In the latter case, there was no attack because Hannibal knew he could not prevail. Alaric, king of the Visigoths saw a different vista – an impotent western empire without a future.
Barbarians in the north. Persians in the east. Catholics within. With enemies everywhere, it was no surprise to find a paranoid emperor.
Valens, emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire from 364—378, was far from the specimen of nobility you would expect. When you think of a Roman emperor, you might picture a man with arms upheld in victory, leading a procession of soldiers and slaves through the city of Rome. Or perhaps you picture Commodus from “Gladiator,” a naïve youth whose desire to help the commoners is clouded by his fascination with his sister. But you do not picture a man with a squint—squints are for Popeye. Or a man with bowed legs—those are for cowboys. Yet, Valens (CAESAR·FLAVIVS·IVLIVS·VALENS·AVGVSTVS) was just that. Not even his paranoia could save him.
Heroes and ancient warriors collected names. Think of biblical characters, Tolkien’s heroes, or ancient kings with their list of titles. Quite impressive, especially compared to our simple John Robert Smith. (My apologies if that is your name.)