Goths and Romans 332-489 (review)
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Reviewed by
Peter J. Heather. Goths and Romans 332-489. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991. Pp. xvi + 378. $81.00.

Peter Heather's study on the Goths is a welcome addition to a significant amount of recent scholarly research on the Goths, both in the eastern and western context. One need only cite the works by Wolfram (1979), Burns (1984), and the Acta of several important congresses in Madrid (1985), Toledo (1989), and Paris (1991), to single out a few.

By the author's own admission, the book is directly derived from his doctoral dissertation, "The Goths and the Balkans A.D. 350-500," and Parts II and III of the present version still focus on the Balkans.

The major argument for another book on the Goths given by Professor Heather is his desire to "undertake a thorough reconsideration of the work of Gothic history composed in c. 550 by one Jordanes, the De origine actibusque Getarum or Getica" (p. vii). Part I is devoted to Jordanes and his Gothic history. Chapter 1 within that section attempts to demonstrate that all modern histories about the Goths between the third and sixth centuries are based principally upon Jordanes' framework. Contemporary research seems to demonstrate that Jordanes is misleading in his account of the history of Gothic political groupings and the dynasties who ruled them. Chapter 2 is an attempt to establish why the Getica should contain a different view of Gothic history, in which Visigoths and Ostrogoths existed before the Huns arrived, with Amals and Balthi already as their leaders. The author focuses on Jordanes' sources and methods of composition, the influences upon him, particularly by Cassiodorus, and a somewhat obscure work by Ablabius to correct these views. Peter Heather believes that much of the debate over the Getica has isolated itself unwisely on a few passages and what is needed is a more holistic consideration of the work.

Part II is titled, Formation of the Visigoths: Goths and Romans, 376-418. Chronologically it deals with the forty or so years after 376 where the Visigoths emerge in the Balkans out of a wide variety of "Gothic" groups who united, as the author argues, to conserve their independence as the Romans became more hostile. There are detailed discussions within this section on the crossing of the Danube, the Peace of 383, and Alaric's movement to Gaul.

Part III is titled the Formation of the Ostrogoths: Goths in the Balkans, 450-489, which explains the creation of an Ostrogoth confederation. As in the previous section, the author explores the process and reasons why Gothic groups re-formed themselves in this fashion. Peter Heather maintains that the interactions between Roman interference and Gothic responses are the crucial elements in this process; therefore, his analysis unfolds within the framework of diplomatic history. He also explains why he has chosen the dates 332 to 489 as a chronological demarcation for the entire study. The initial phase between Gotho-Roman relations dates from Constantine's treaty with the Goths in 332. The latter date of 489 is chosen to close out the limits of the book, "to dampen any expectation in the mind of the reader that I shall deal in any substantial way with the history of the independent Gothic [End Page 79] kingdoms after the fall of the Western Roman Empire" (p. ix). These are prudent and realistic self-imposed limitations, since monographs on Visigothic Gaul, or Spain, and Ostrogothic Italy require numerous monographs for adequate exploration, a task left for others to accomplish. Peter Heather also intends each of the three sections of the study to be self-contained. All three sections are bound together within the context of current scholarly opinions and the author hopes to, "suggest some lines of thought which differ in significant ways from some of those currently in vogue" (p. ix).

Professor Heather has used the Latinized forms of Gothic names and words following the norms in the Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire. In order to reach the broadest audience possible he uses translations for most of the sources, either relying on standard works or providing some of his own. This in no way detracts...