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Rome's Gothic Wars (2006)

af Michael Kulikowski

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1593169,276 (3.83)3
Rome's Gothic Wars is a concise introduction to research on the Roman Empire's relations with one of the most important barbarian groups of the ancient world. The book uses archaeological and historical evidence to look not just at the course of events, but at the social and political causes of conflict between the empire and its Gothic neighbours. In eight chapters, Michael Kulikowski traces the history of Romano-Gothic relations from their earliest stage in the third century, through the development of strong Gothic politics in the early fourth century, until the entry of many Goths into the empire in 376 and the catastrophic Gothic war that followed. The book closes with a detailed look at the career of Alaric, the powerful Gothic general who sacked the city of Rome in 410.… (mere)
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Quite a short but an incisive book, worth reading even if you are interested in the wider 'barbarian' question, like me.

How living on the edges of an empire creates barbarian groups and polities. The Goths did not exist until Romans told them they did.

So much of this is consonant with the situation in China, re its steppe barbarians. From the way the luxuries trade creates and controls an elite beholden to the empire, down to the massacres of barbarian leaders at feasts. Popular tactic.

The great strength of this book was to discuss historiography. As he says at the start, most introductions to a subject don't make historiographical issues transparent, but write as if conclusions are certain. Kulikowski argues that admitting to the uncertainties of history-practice needn't be confusing -- on the contrary, the puzzles and the conflicting interpretations are themselves the most exciting part of doing history. Amen to that. So he is transparent about the steps by which he works towards his views. This doesn't make a difficult read.

I find him persuasive, along with Halsall's Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568. They have a different take to Peter Heather who looms largely over the field.

One funny thing about this book is that he begins in story format, with Alaric at the gates of Rome being bad-tempered (as if we know he was an angry individual. He was a barbarian, so he must be). Then Kulikowski straight away explains that that kind of history is impossible to write without its being fiction. But I'd almost put his book down -- so be more patient than I am. ( )
2 stem Jakujin | May 3, 2018 |
Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of ancient and medieval history books that illustrate the difference between classical historical methods - that assign preeminence to the written word; and more modern techniques - that incorporate archaeological evidence and critical readings of the original texts.


Michael Kulikowski’s Rome’s Gothic Wars is an example of modern methods, and goes a long way toward explaining how a tribal group of overly made-up teenage girls with fuchsia-streaked hair and multiple facial piercings managed to conquer the mighty Roman empire.


As Kulikowski explains, every previous history of the Goths has been heavily influenced by Jordanes’ 6th century AD Getica. Jordane’s history has the Goths originating in Sweden, migrating across the Baltic to Poland, wandering around eastern Europe, settling in the Ukraine for a while, and eventually picking up and moving west to overrun the Roman empire. Since Jordanes also had a Gothic princess marrying Philip of Macedon, and the migrating Goths take a side trip to conquer Egypt, reasonable historians, even in a more credulous age, shouldn’t have taken Jordanes’ account very seriously. Unfortunately, the idea of a quasi-Germanic group conquering most of Europe and a good chunk of Russia had a certain appeal to a subgroup of European historians in the 19th and early 20th century. They explained that the more fanciful parts of Jordanes were later inventions but the basic migratory history was correct, a product of “racial memory” and the transmission of historic accounts by a small, elite group of Gothic nobles – and that Jordanes justified the modern descendents of the Goths in their effort to reclaim all their “ancestral” territory.


Combining archaeological evidence and more circumspect reading of Jordanes and other ancient authors, Kulikowski concludes that the “Goths” were, to a large extent, the product of a Roman tendency to combine loosely associated tribal groups into peoples, like “Gauls”, “Brittons”, “Germans”, and “Goths”. To be sure, there was a common archaeological culture in the traditionally Gothic area – the Sântana-de-Mureş/Černjachov culture (which will called SMC from now on, for obvious reasons) – and there probably was some degree of self-identification among the tribal groups. The impetus for the Gothic “invasion” of the Roman empire came from outside pressure by the Huns, who overran eastern Gothic tribes (without, interestingly enough, making great changes in the SMC culture). A single Gothic tribe, the Tervingi, appealed for admission to the Empire to escape the Huns, with the promise to be well-behaved and to provide military units. This might have actually worked, had not corrupt Roman officials intercepted and sold the food supplies supposed to sustain the Goths until they could reestablish their agricultural base. That led to a “rebellion”, which was probably more like the response of a bunch of hungry and heavily armed warriors to local foraging opportunities. This wouldn’t do, though, so Emperor Valens led an army out of Constantinople to put down the “rebellion”. The main body of Goths under Fritigern was somewhat smaller than Valen’s army, and Fritigern played for time, commencing negotiations. In the meantime, two more large Gothic groups turned up, so that the Gothic army now outnumbered the Romans. The battle of Adrianople commenced and the Goths annihilated the Roman Army (the Emperor, all the main generals, and two-thirds of the soldiers died).


Subsequent Roman emperors restored some stability and the Goths more or less settled down in the Eastern empire. However, thirty years later they were on the move again, this time toward the west. Kulikowski admits he isn’t quite sure why; possibly the Goths under their general Alaric were used to getting subsidies from the eastern Empire and they dried up. At any rate, he and his warband showed up at the Italian border. They were initially opposed by the last of the great Roman generals, Stilchio, who fought a series of inconclusive battles while various usurpers were playing musical emperors behind him (in Ravenna, where the capital had moved from Rome). Eventual, however, the ironically named emperor Honorious was persuaded that Stilchio was planning a coup and he was seized and executed. (Kulikowski notes that with the resources at his disposal, Stilchio could have easily overthrown the emperor but decided not to).


That left Alaric with the only organized military force in Italy. He was surprisingly patient, merely camping near Rome in a sort of informal siege; since Rome was entirely dependent on outside food sources Alaric tightened or loosened the blockade depending on how negotiations with Ravenna were going. Eventually his patience ran out and he sacked Rome on August 27, 410 (just celebrated the anniversary of that, interestingly enough). Oddly, it didn’t do him much good; although there were wagon loads of treasure there was no food, and Alaric took his army south, perhaps intended to cross to the farmlands of Sicily or Africa but dying of disease before he got there. The remainder of the Goths went through their own “musical leaders” process until then eventually, apparently without planning to, ended up in Gaul and settled down.


I found this an easy read and quite interesting; the first third or so of the book is not Gothic history so much as Gothic historiography; Kulikowski portrays how the conception of what “Goths” changed through European history (and as noted above, changed that history). I found this fascinating. There are only large scale maps, which is understandable because nobody really knows details of what happened at any of the battles mentioned. There are two excellent glossaries, one of historical personages and one of historical sources. Recommended if you like this sort of thing.
1 stem setnahkt | Dec 18, 2017 |
This is a short book and easy to read but is packed with eye openers, it is valuable both for a hobbiest like myself and the professional. I recently read Peter Heather's "The Fall of the Roman Empire" (2005), as well as other survey accounts of the Goths including Gibbon and Bury (and of course the History Channel "Barbarians") - Kulikowski's writing style is great, it's difficult to tire of such an incredible story, everyone tells it a little differently adding new ideas and perspectives.

More than a survey, Kulikowski makes a bold (and convincing) case about the origins of the Goths and what motivated them (or not) to cross the Danube in 376. In addition we learn about the latest approach to barbarian ethnicity (called "ethnogenesis") which is applicable to all the ancient peoples and important to understand in the face of so much racist and nationalistic scholarship out there; an excellent historiography of Gothic studies which reveals some interesting connections to modern educational institutions; a general overview of the barbarians and the Roman Empire; a "Further Reading" where we get the authors recommendations on the best books available for specific topics; a list of key names with short descriptions (about 150 names).

This is the first in a series which is described in the opening matter: "This series is composed of introductory-level texts that provide an essential foundation for the study of important wars and conflicts of classical antiquity. Each volume provides a synopsis of the main events and key characters, the consequences of the conflict, and its reception over time. An important feature is the critical overview of the textual and archaeological sources for the conflict, which is designed to teach both historiography and the methods that historians use to reconstruct events of the past." ( )
  Stbalbach | Nov 16, 2006 |
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Rome's Gothic Wars is a concise introduction to research on the Roman Empire's relations with one of the most important barbarian groups of the ancient world. The book uses archaeological and historical evidence to look not just at the course of events, but at the social and political causes of conflict between the empire and its Gothic neighbours. In eight chapters, Michael Kulikowski traces the history of Romano-Gothic relations from their earliest stage in the third century, through the development of strong Gothic politics in the early fourth century, until the entry of many Goths into the empire in 376 and the catastrophic Gothic war that followed. The book closes with a detailed look at the career of Alaric, the powerful Gothic general who sacked the city of Rome in 410.

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