or Gothnes (in their own language Gutans or Guts). A powerful northern nation, who acted an important part in the overthrow of the Roman Empire. The name Gothi, or Goths, appears first in history in the third century, and it was then used by the Roman writers as synonymous with the more ancient one of Getae, a people who lived on the banks of the lower Danube, near the shores of the Euxine; but the identity of the two races, though maintained by Jakob Grimm, is now generally rejected. The old Scandinavian tradition in the Eddas makes their chief, Odin or Woden, to have come from the banks of the Dniester to the shores of the Baltic many centuries before the Christian era.
About the middle of the third century of our era, the Goths are recorded to have crossed the Dniester, and to have devastated Dacia and Thrace. The emperor Decius lost his life in opposing them in Moesia (A.D. 251), after which his successor Gallus induced them by money to withdraw again to their old dwellings on the Dniester. They then seem to have spread eastward, and to have occupied the country about the Cimmerian Bosporus, whence they sailed across the Euxine, occupied Trebizond, and ravaged Bithynia. In the year 269 they landed in Macedonia, but were defeated by the emperor Claudius II., hence styled Gothicus. Three years after, Aurelian gave up Dacia to a tribe of Goths, who are believed to have been the Visigoths or Western Goths, while those who ravaged Asia Minor were the Ostrogoths or Eastern Goths. This distinction of the race into two grand divisions appears about this time. Under Constantine I. the Goths from Dacia invaded Illyricum, but were repelled. Constantine II. afterwards allowed a part of them to settle in Moesia, who seem to have soon after embraced Christianity, as it was for them that Ulphilas (Wulfila) translated the Scriptures, about the middle of the fourth century, into the dialect called Moeso-Gothic. About the year 375, the Huns, coming from the East, fell upon the Ostrogoths, and drove them upon the Visigoths, who were living north of the Danube. The latter, being hard pressed, implored permission of the Roman commander to be allowed to cross that river, and take shelter in the territory of the Empire. The emperor Valens consented, and a vast multitude of them were allowed to settle in Moesia, where soon afterwards they quarrelled with the Roman authorities, invaded Thrace, and defeated and killed Valens, who came to oppose them (A.D. 378). From that time they exercised great influence over the Byzantine court, either as allies and mercenaries, or as formidable enemies. Towards the end of the fourth century, Alaric, being chosen king of the Visigoths, invaded Northern Italy, but was defeated by Stilicho near Verona (A.D. 402). He came again, however, about six years after, and plundered Rome (A.D. 410). His successor Ataulphus (Atawulf) made peace with the Empire, and repaired to the south of Gaul, where the Visigoths founded the kingdom of Toulouse, from which they afterwards passed into Spain, where a Visigothic dynasty reigned for more than two centuries, till it was conquered by the Moors.
Meanwhile the Ostrogoths or Eastern Goths, who had settled in Pannonia, after the destruction of the kingdom of the Huns, extended their dominion over Noricum, Rhaetia, and Illyricum, and about the year 489 they invaded Italy, under their king, Theodoric, and defeated Odoacer, king of the Heruli, who had assumed the title of King of Italy, a title which Theodoric then took for himself, with the consent of the Eastern emperor. Theodoric was an able prince: his reign was a period of rest for Italy, and his wise administration did much towards healing the wounds of that country. But his successors degenerated, and the Gothic dominion over Italy lasted only till 553, when it was overthrown by Narses, the general of Justinian.
From this time the Goths figure no longer as a power in the history of Western Europe, except in Spain. Their name, however, is found perpetuated long after in Scandinavia, where a kingdom of Gotha existed until the twelfth century, distinct from Sweden Proper, until both crowns were united on the head of Charles Swerkerson (A.D. 1161), who assumed the title of King of the Swedes and the Goths. It is probable, however, that the Gothland of Sweden is etymologically not the land of the Goths, but the land of the Gauts, a distinct though kindred people. An Ostrogothic people also settled the Crimea in the fourth century, so that the peninsula was officially styled Gothia by the Greek Church down to the eighteenth century. In 1750, the Jesuit Mondorf learned from a native of the Crimea that his countrymen spoke a dialect bearing some likeness to German. The Gothic language is now classed with the Scandinavian in the East Germanic group. See Indo-European Languages.
On the early history of the Goths, consult Iordanis, De Getarum sive Gothorum Origine et Rebus Gestis; Isidorus, Chronicon Gothorum; and Procopius, De Bello Gothico. The first two, however, are not to be trusted implicitly when they treat of the remote genealogy and origin of the Gothic race. See H. Bradley, The Goths (1888).