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Barbarian Tides

The Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire

By Walter Goffart

Publication Year: 2009

The Migration Age is still envisioned as an onrush of expansionary "Germans" pouring unwanted into the Roman Empire and subjecting it to pressures so great that its western parts collapsed under the weight. Further developing the themes set forth in his classic Barbarians and Romans, Walter Goffart dismantles this grand narrative, shaking the barbarians of late antiquity out of this "Germanic" setting and reimagining the role of foreigners in the Later Roman Empire.

The Empire was not swamped by a migratory Germanic flood for the simple reason that there was no single ancient Germanic civilization to be transplanted onto ex-Roman soil. Since the sixteenth century, the belief that purposeful Germans existed in parallel with the Romans has been a fixed point in European history. Goffart uncovers the origins of this historical untruth and argues that any projection of a modern Germany out of an ancient one is illusory. Rather, the multiplicity of northern peoples once living on the edges of the Empire participated with the Romans in the larger stirrings of late antiquity. Most relevant among these was the long militarization that gripped late Roman society concurrently with its Christianization.

If the fragmented foreign peoples with which the Empire dealt gave Rome an advantage in maintaining its ascendancy, the readiness to admit military talents of any social origin to positions of leadership opened the door of imperial service to immigrants from beyond its frontiers. Many barbarians were settled in the provinces without dislodging the Roman residents or destabilizing landownership; some were even incorporated into the ruling families of the Empire. The outcome of this process, Goffart argues, was a society headed by elites of soldiers and Christian clergy—one we have come to call medieval.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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p. i-i


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p. ii-ii


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pp. iii-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Twenty-five years ago I published Barbarians and Romans A.D. 418-584: The Techniques of Accommodation. Barbarian Tides is a sequel, a rethought, revised, much expanded, and wholly rewritten version of the earlier book. It is a com prehensive, though certainly not an exhaustive introduction to the activities of northern barbarians in late antiquity, activities often called "the barbarian inva ...

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pp. 1-12

A funny thing happened to the later Roman Empire on its way to the twenty-first century: it ran into a wave of "ethnicity" and "ethnogenesis,"1 A leading historian informs us, for example, that "from the late fourth century onwards, ethnicity began to return to the power struggles within the Roman world,"2 This was not something one used to be told. The dominant...

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1: A Clarification: The Three Meanings of "Migration Age"

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pp. 13-22

Not long ago my mail brought news of four DVDs called "The Wandering Tribes of Europe." The individual disk titles are a little history inthemselves: (1) "From the Mists of the North, the Germanic Tribes"; (2) "FurorTeutonicus, Pax Romana"; (3) "Storm over Europe: The Huns Are Corning";(4) "The End of Rome, the Birth ofEurope." The "wandering tribes" package...

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2: A Recipe on Trial: "The Germans Overthrow the Roman Empire"

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pp. 23-39

In the continuing debate over the fall of the Roman Empire, the view that the Empire was destroyed by external forces has always had eloquent and influential supporters. Even before the imperial period of Rome began, the Greek historian Polybius raised the specter that its downfall might corne from an unforeseeable force outside itself. The Latin poets-at the height of Roman expansionism...

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3: An Entrenched Myth of Origins: The Germans before Germany

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pp. 40-55

Ernst Stein was a major twentieth-century historian of late antiquity. Austrian by birth and education, he obtained a personal chair of ancient history at the University of Berlin in 1927 and was visiting Belgium in 1933 when Hitler became chancellor of Germany. Stein, a Jew, responded decisively to the advent of Hitler. Immediately resigning his German ties, he stayed in Belgium...

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4 Jordanes's Getica and the Disputed Authenticity of Gothic Origins from Scandinavia

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pp. 56-72

The noted Prussian historian Heinrich von Sybel said, ''A nation that does not keep a living connection with its origins is close to withering, ascertainly so as a branch that has been cut from its roots. We are still today what we were yesterday."1 This is a harmless remark-one historian's statement among many others affirming the civic relevance of his subject. It might be paraphrased...

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5 The Great Rhine Crossing, A.D. 400–420, a Case of Barbarian Migration

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pp. 73-118

The invasion of Gaul in 406 by the Alans, Vandals, and Sueves is a famous event of late Roman history, a critical step in the penetration of aliens into the Roman Empire and the passage of the Western provinces from imperial to non-Roman control. When the fall of Rome was a widely respectable concept, the invasion of 406 was considered...

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6 The "Techniques of Accommodation" Revisited

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pp. 119-186

Twenty-five years ago, I published a book called Barbarians and Romans: TheTechniques of Accommodation. It took up an old subject-the legal technicalities involved in settling Goths and Burgundians in the Roman provinces of Gaul, Italy, and Spain in the fifth and sixth centuries. I argued, contrary to earlier opinion, that the Roman tax machinery was central to these settlements and...

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7 None of Them Were Germans: Northern Barbarians in Late Antiquity

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pp. 187-229

The title of this chapter draws attention to the absence of "Germans;" "the Germanic;' and "Germany" from the Migration Age. None of the participants called themselves by such a name, and even late Roman observers, whose ancestors had placed the term into circulation, used it rarely. When they did, they almost invariably meant...

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8 Conclusion: The Long Simplification of Late Antiquity

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pp. 230-240

In 734, a year before his death, the monk Bede wrote a letter of admonition and advice to Egbert, bishop of York, a cousin of Ceolwulf, the reigning king of Northumbria. Bede paid special attention to an abuse that he regarded as a clear threat to Northumbrian society: There are innumerable places, as we all know, allowed the name of monasteries by amost foolish manner of speaking, but having nothing at all of a monastic way of life.......


1. Alexander Demandt on the Role of the Germans in the End of the Roman Empire

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p. 252-252

2. Chronicle Evidence for the Burgundian Settlement

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pp. 253-256

3. The Meaning of agri cum mancipiis in the Burgundian Kingdom

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pp. 257-262

List of Abbreviation

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pp. 263-266


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pp. 267-346


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pp. 347-364


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pp. 365-372

E-ISBN-13: 9780812200287
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812221053

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2009