Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1.: THE ORIGIN OF THE GOTHS; AND THE GOTHIC HISTORY OF JORDANES — ( P. 4 sqq. ) - The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 2
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1.: THE ORIGIN OF THE GOTHS; AND THE GOTHIC HISTORY OF JORDANES — ( P. 4 sqq. ) - Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 2 
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J.B. Bury with an Introduction by W.E.H. Lecky (New York: Fred de Fau and Co., 1906), in 12 vols. Vol. 2.
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THE ORIGIN OF THE GOTHS; AND THE GOTHIC HISTORY OF JORDANES — (P. 4sqq.)
The earliest mention of the Goths of which we have any record occurred in the work of Pytheas of Massilia, who lived towards the end of the fourth century and is famous as the earliest explorer of the North. His good faith has been called in question by some ancient writers, but the moderns take a more favourable view of his work, so far as it is known from the references of such writers as Strabo and Pliny. (See Müllenhoff, Deutsche Alterthumskunde, I.) His notice of the Goths is cited by Pliny, Nat. Hist. xxxvii. 2: Pytheas Guttonibus Germaniae genti accoli aestuarium Oceani Mentonomon nomine spatio sladiorum sex milia; ab hoc diei navigatione insulam abesse Abalum. The names Abalum and Mentonomon are mysterious; but there seems ground for inferring that in the fourth century the Guttones lived in the same regions on the shores of the Baltic which they occupied in the first century (Pliny, Nat. Hist. iv. 14; Tacitus, Germ. 43, Gotones). Nor is there any good ground for refusing to identify the Gotones or Guttones of the first century with the Gothi of the third. (See Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders, vol. i. cap. i., to which I would refer for a full discussion, as well as to Dahn’s Könige der Germanen.)
Our chief source for the early history of the Goths is the Getica (or de origine actibusque Getarum) of Jordanes (whom it was formerly usual to call Jornandes, a name which appears only in inferior MSS.). Jordanes (a Christian name suggesting the river Jordan) was a native of Lower Moesia, and lived in the sixth century in the reign of Justinian. It is not quite certain to what nationality he belonged; but it is less probable that he was a genuine Goth or even a Teuton than that he was of Alanic descent. A certain Candac had led a mixed body of barbarians, Scyri, Sadagarii, and Alans (see Get. l. 265) into Lower Moesia and Scythia; they had settled in the land, assimilated themselves to the surrounding Goths, and adopted the Gothic name, more illustrious than their own. The grandfather of Jordanes had been a notary of Candac, and Jordanes himself was secretary of Candac’s nephew Gunthigis. This connection of the family of Jordanes with a family which was certainly not Gothic, combined with the name of his father Alanoviimuthes, leads us to conclude that Jordanes was an Alan;1 and this was quite consistent with his being an ardent “Goth.” The small Alanic settlement of Moesia merged itself in the Gothic people, just as the larger Alanic population of Spain merged itself in the Vandalic nation. Beginning life as a scribe, Jordanes ended it as a monk (Getica, l. 266), perhaps as a bishop; it has been proposed to identify him with a bishop of Croton who lived at the same time and bore the same name (Mansi, ix. 60).
Jordanes wrote his Getica in the year 551. It was unnecessary for him to say that he had no literary training (agrammatus); this fact is written large all over his work. He states that his book was the result of a three days’ study of the Gothic History of Cassiodorius, the learned minister of Theodoric. The fact is that the Getica is simply an abridgment of the larger work of Cassiodorius (in twelve books); and modern critics (Usener, Hodgkin) not unreasonably question the “three days” of Jordanes. Thus, when we are dealing with Jordanes, we are really, in most cases, dealing with Cassiodorius; and the spirit, the tendency, of Cassiodorius is faithfully reflected in Jordanes. To praise the Gothic race, and especially the Amal line to which Theodoric belonged, was the aim of that monarch’s minister; Jordanes writes in the same spirit and echoes the antipathy to the Vandals which was expressed by Cassiodorius. There are, however, also certain original elements in the Getica. There is a significant contrast between the knowledge of the geography of the eastern provinces in the Balkan peninsula and the ignorance of the rest of the empire, which are displayed in this treatise. The stress laid on the institution of Gothic foederati may be attributed rather to the Moesian subject of the empire than to the minister of the independent Ostrogothic kingdom.
One of the features of the lost work of Cassiodorius was the manufacture of an ancient history for the Goths by the false identification of that race with the Getae and with the Scythians. The former confusion was suggested by the resemblance of name, the latter by the geographical comprehensiveness of the term Scythia, which embraced all the peoples of the North before they appeared on the scene of history. These fanciful reconstructions are eagerly adopted by Jordanes.
It may be well doubted whether Jordanes consulted on his own account another writer on Gothic history, Ablavius (cp. Gibbon, chap. x. note 5), who is merely a name to us. He cites him with praise (iv. 28 and elsewhere); but there is little doubt that the laudatory references are derived from Cassiodorius. On the other hand it may be supposed that Jordanes, living among Goths, counting himself as a Goth, had some independent knowledge of old Gothic legends and songs to which he refers as mentioned by Ablavius (ib. quem ad modum et in priscis eorum carminibus pene storico ritu, &c.). The emigration of the Goths from Scandzia, the island of the far north, their coming to the land of Oium, and battle with the Spali, are not indeed historical, but are a genuine Gothic legend; and stand on quite a different footing from the Getic and Scythian discoveries of Cassiodorius.
The other work of Jordanes, a summary of Roman history (entitled de summa temporum vel origine actibusque gentis Romanorum, usually cited as Romana), written partly before, partly after, the Getica, does not concern us here. An account of the sources of both works will be found in Mommsen’s exhaustive Proœmium to his splendid edition in the Monumenta Germaniæ historica (1882), from which for this brief notice I have selected a few leading points. The reader may also be referred to the clear summary and judicious discussion of Mr. Hodgkin in the introduction and appendix to the first chapter of his Italy and her Invaders, and to Mr. Acland’s article “Jordanes” in the Dictionary of Christian Biography.
Some other points in connection with Jordanes will call for notice when we come to his own time.
[1 ]There are internal confirmations of this conclusion, — signs of a special interest taken by Jordanes in the Alans; see Getica, xv. 83, xxiv. 126-7, xliii. 226. See Mommsen, Proœmium to his edition, p. x.