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The Date of the Conversion of the Visigoths

  • E. A. Thompson (a1)

When the Visigoths crossed the Danube in 376 and entered the Roman provinces, were they Christian or pagan? Were the two armies which clashed at Adrianople on 9 August 378 composed substantially of Christians, or were the victors still pagan? When Ulfila, the Apostle of the Goths, died c. 382, had he succeeded in converting his fellow countrymen to Christianity? It will be argued here that it would be inconsistent with such evidence as exists to suppose that the Visigoths were a Christian people at any of these dates

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page 1 note 1 Daicoviciu, C., ‘Existǎ Monumente Creştine în Dacia Traianǎ din sec. ii–iii?’, Anuarul Institutului de Studii Classice, II (19341935), 192209, discusses with illustrations the alleged archaeological evidence; more briefly idem, ‘Au sujet des monuments Chrétiens de la Dacie Trajane’, Mélanges J. Marouzeau, Paris 1948, 119–24. The literary evidence is discussed by Pippidi, D. M., ‘Intorno alle Fonti Letterarie del Cristianesimo Daco-Romano’, Revue historique du sud-est européen, XX (1943), 166–81.

page 1 note 2 Mitrea, D., ‘O Gemă Creştină din Turda’, Revista Istorică Română, XVI (1946), 5162.

page 2 note 1 CIL. iii. 1617, with Horedt, K., ‘Eine lateinische Inschrift des 4. Jahrhunderts aus Siebenbürgen’, Anuarul (as above), IV (1941), 1017, Barnea, I., ‘Contribuţii la Studiul Creştinismului în Dacia’, Revista Istorică Română, XIII (19421943), 3142, at 32 ff., Alföldi, A., ‘Eine lateinische christliche Inschrift aus Siebenbürgen’, Archaeologiai Értesitő, Ser. iii, vol. III (1942), 255–8, though there is no need to suppose that this was an article of plunder brought home from the Roman provinces, for this supposition will not explain the peculiar distribution of the Christian finds in Dacia.

page 2 note 2 The pear-shaped Christian lamp found in or near Apulum is thought by Mitrea, B., ‘Une lampe chrétienne découverte en Transylvanie’, Dacia, IX–X (19411944), 507–11, to date from the fourth century (though the fifth is not impossible) and to have belonged to Romano-Dacians. If it was in fact found in the Roman city it is not likely to have been Visigothic, for there is neither evidence nor likelihood that the barbarians occupied the Roman cities. For another lamp of similar date but without Christian symbols, which is also thought to have been found at Apulum, see Horedt, K., ‘Funde der Völkerwanderungszeit aus Siebenbürgen’, Anuarul (as above), IV (1941), 163–79, at 165–7. Yet another Christian lamp of the fourth century has been found at Mercheaşa in the county of Târnava Mare: ibid., 167.

page 2 note 3 Daicoviciu, C., La Transylvanie dans l'antiquité, Bucharest 1945, 223.

page 2 note 4 Socrates, H.E., i. 18. 4, cf. Sozomen, H.E., ii. 6. 1. If this were true, it would certainly have been mentioned by Eusebius, V.C., iv. 5.

page 3 note 1 Philostorgius, H.E., ii. 5 (p. 17. 5 ff., ed. Bidez); Syncellus, p. 716, ed. Bonn; cf. Zosimus, Hist., i. 28. 1.

page 3 note 2 Philostorgius, loc. cit.; Sozomen, ii. 6. 2.

page 3 note 3 Philostorgius, p. 17. 17; Socrates, v. 23. 8; cf. Sozomen, vii. 17. 12. On Selenas's name see Loewe, R., ‘Der gotische Kalender’, Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum, LIX (1922), 245–90, at 277. Sadagolthina: Salaville, S., ‘Un ancien bourg de Cappadoce’, Échos d'Orient, XV (1912), 61–3. For the doubts—none of them persuasive—which have been thrown on Philostorgius here see (in English) Scott, C. A. A., Ulfilas, Apostle of the Goths, Cambridge 1885, 50 f., followed by Hopkins, A. G., ‘Ulfilas and the Conversion of the Goths’, The Andover Review, XVIII (1892), 162–79, at 165 f.

page 3 note 4 Basil, Ep., 164, where τῃ ύπομνήσει των παλαιων is the only indication of Eutyches's date. See Scott, op. cit., 29 f.; Jellinek, M. H., Geschichte der gotischen Sprache, Berlin and Leipzig 1926, 8.

page 3 note 5 Schulze, W., Kleine Schriften, Göttingen 1934, 513; Jellinek, op. cit., 188 ff., and Zur christlichen Terminologie im Gotischen’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur, XLVII (1923), 434–47. Nothing can be deduced about early Visigothic Christianity from Tertullian adv. Iud. vii: see Pippidi, art. cit., Athanasius, Or. de Incarn. Verbi li, writing between 319 and 321, lists the Goths among those barbarians who had been reached by the Gospel. But that is not to say that they were then predominantly Christian, and moreover the Goths to whom he refers may be the Ostrogoths of the Crimea. Also, it is not at all certain that the Theophilus who was present at the Council of Nicaea was a Visigoth rather than an Ostrogoth. The Vita of Nicetas has little historical value so far as the Visigoths are concerned: see Delehaye, H., ‘Saints de Thrace et de Mésie’, Analecta Bollandiana, XXXI (1912), 161300, at 285 f., where the reason for the author's false association of Ulfila with Theophilus is accounted for. The lists of the bishops present at Nicaea make Theophilus come from Gothia: but that name was also used of the Ostrogothic parts of the Crimea, e.g. in John Chrysostom, Ep., xiv. 5, ccvi. On the other hand, Philostorgius, ii. 5, describes Ulfila as the first bishop of the Visigoths (though admittedly he may mean the first Arian bishop).

page 4 note 1 Epiphanius, Panar. Haer. lxx (iii. 233, 247, ed. Holl); cf. Jerome, Chron. a. 341; Chronica Minora, i. 453, s.a. 341. Iselin, L. E., ‘Audios und die Audianer’, Fahrbücher für protestantische Theologie, XVI (1890), 298305, disproves the suggestion once put forward tentatively by Harnack, A., Theologische Literaturzeitung, XI (1886), 77, that Audius was a Goth and bore a Gothic name.

page 4 note 2 Epiphanius, loc. cit., 247 f. On the other hand, the Silvanus who was one of the signatories of the Burgundian Liber Constitutionum is believed to have borne a Germanic name by Kögel, R., ‘Die Stellung des burgundischen innerhalb der germanischen Sprachen’, Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum, XXXVII (1893), 223–31, at 229, who says that silva=Gothic silba=OHG. selbo. But we need hardly discuss this suggestion.

page 4 note 3 Epiphanius, loc. cit., 247. 29 f.

page 4 note 4 Delehaye, art. cit., 279. For an Ostrogothic monastery in the Eastern Empire in 404 see John Chrysostom, Ep., xiv.

page 4 note 5 Passio S. Sabae, 216. 30, ed. Delehaye, art. cit., with texts of the other documents relating to the Visigoths. A text of the Passio will also be found in Knopf, R., Ausgewählte Märtyrerakten3, Tübingen 1929, 119–24. For the historical interest of the Passio see Historia, IV (1955), 331–8.

page 5 note 1 Delehaye, art. cit., 218. 10, cf. 217. 30, 218. 9.

page 5 note 2 Ibid., 219. 4 ff.

page 5 note 3 Ibid., 218. 16 ff. The ἄλλοις πλείοσι of 218. 35 are not necessarily Christians. Incidentally, the existence of this name Guththica seems to have been overlooked by the commentators on the inscription conveniently printed by Fiebiger, O., Inschriftensammlung zur Geschichte der Ostgermanen, Zweite Folge, Akad. d. Wissensch. in Wien: phil.-hist. Klasse, Denkschriften Bd. 72, Abh. 2, Vienna 1944, 19 f. (no. 20), where we hear of a German named Herminarius who was praepositus gentilium at Inak in southern Syria in 208 with a son named Γοὺθθα The name of our presbyter suggests that it is unnecessary to take the son's name to be non-Germanic or a stone-mason's error for Guda or Gudda.

page 5 note 4 Schmidt, L., Geschichte der deutschen Stämme: die Ostgermanen, Munich 1934, 235; Giesecke, H., Die Ostgermanen und der Arianismus, Leipzig and Berlin 1939, 67. For the names see esp. Achelis, H., ‘Der älteste deutsche Kalender’, Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, I (1900), 308–35, at 323, where there is a complete list of the MS. variants; and note Gonstans, Ibid., 318. Sansalas also has an Asian name: Loewe, art. cit., 277 f., and Gotische Namen in hagiographischen Texten’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur, XLVII (1923), 407–33, at 432. On the other hand, Sabas is said to have been Γότθος τῳ γένει and so also in the title of the Passio. The name Sabas has usually been considered to be Germanic since Müllenhoff, K., Zeitschr. f. deutsches Altertum, VI (1848), 459, cf. xviii (1875), 255, and e.g. E. Förstemann, Altdeutsches Namenbuch, Bonn 1900, i2. 1285 f., though this is not accepted by Helm, K., Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, Heidelberg 1937, II. i. 72 n. I, who admits, however, ‘dass er seiner Herkunft nach Gote war’. Note that the East Saxon king Saberct was sometimes called Saba, Bede, H.E., ii. 5.

page 6 note 1 Delehaye, 279.

page 6 note 2 Passio, 218. 24; Orosius, vii. 32. 9; Jerome, Chron. a. 371.

page 6 note 3 For positive evidence of Visigothic paganism before 376 Pippidi, art. cit., 176–81, is inclined to refer to Macarius of Magnesia, Apocrit. iv. 13 (in Blondel, C., Macarii Magnetis quae supersunt, Paris 1876, 179), but the reference there is to the nomadic peoples of the steppe region.

page 6 note 4 Orosius, vii. 33. 19.

page 6 note 5 Jordanes, Get., xxv. 131 f.

page 7 note 1 Socrates, iv. 33; Sozomen, vi. 37. 6 ff.; cf. John of Antioch, frag. 184. 2. The evidence of Theodoret and Isidore of Seville need not be discussed.

page 7 note 2 Cf. Mansion, J., ‘Les origines du Christianisme chez les Gots’, Analecta Bollandiana, XXXIII (1914), 530, at 24.

page 7 note 3 Amm. Marc, xxvi. 6. 11.

page 8 note 1 For the real circumstances in which the Visigoths abandoned Athanaric see Amm. Marc., xxxi. 3. 8.

page 8 note 2 Ambrose, de Fide, ii. 16. 140: ‘sacrilegis vocibus’. On the date see Dudden, F. Homes, The Life and Times of St. Ambrose, Oxford 1935, II. 698.

page 8 note 3 Ep., x. 9, of which the best text will be found in Egger, R., ‘Die Zerstörung Pettaus durch die Goten’, Fahreshefte d. österreichischen Institute in Wien, XVIII (1915), Beiblatt 253–66. On the date see Dudden, op. cit., i. 201 n. 2. We are not concerned, of course, with those Goths who deserted the bulk of their countrymen and took service with the Romans: see e.g. Ambrose, Ep., xx. 12; Zosimus, iv. 25.2 f.; Gregory of Nazianzus, Ep., 136 f. (P.G. xxxvii. 322), and Gainas.

page 8 note 4 ii. 37, x. 14.

page 8 note 5 The arguments of Palanque, J., St. Ambroise et l'empire romain, Paris 1933, 529 ff., and of Dudden, op. cit., ii. 692 ff., are wholly inconclusive in so far as Books ii and x of this work are concerned: they both assume that the.Visigoths were Christian in 377. No evidence for Visigothic Arianism can be found in Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. xxxiii. 2 (P.G. xxxvi. 216) of A.D. 380, on which see F. Jostes, ‘Das Todesjahr des Ulfilas und der Übertritt der Goten zum Arianismus’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur, xxii (1897), 158–87, at 177 f. I confess that I do not know what to make of Eunapius, frag. 55, but I take it that no one would claim on the strength of that passage that Eunapius believed the Visigoths to have been Christian in 376.

page 9 note 1 Ep., cvii. 2. It is true that the passage is somewhat tendentious, but Jerome would not have used the words ‘quia pari religione confidunt’ of a pagan people.

page 9 note 2 Sermo in S. Thomam, etc., (P.G. lix. 500).

page 9 note 3 Orosius, vii. 37. 2, cf. 39. 1; Augustine, de Civ. Dei, v. 23, Sermo, cv. 10. 13 (P.L. xxxviii. 625). For a Visigothic optimate who was a Christian in 410 see Orosius, vii. 39. 3, and for an Arian see Sozomen, ix. 10. I.

page 9 note 4 Jordanes, Get.., xxx. 158. The truth of his story is unnecessarily contested by e.g. Reinach, S., Cultes, Mythes, et Religions, Paris 1923, V. 286–92: see Gennep, A. van, ‘La tombe d'Alaric’, Revue archéologique, Ser. v, vol. XIX (1924), 195207. The killing of the prisoners may have been a sacrifice to the dead: Helm, op. cit., 16 f.

page 9 note 6 Jordanes, Get., xli. 214.

page 10 note 1 Mansi, Conc. Coll., ix. 998 f., canons 22–3.

page 10 note 2 Ibid., 1018, canon 15.

page 10 note 3 Ibid., 1017, canon 14.

page 10 note 4 Leges Visig., vi. 2. 4 f., and the whole title. Cf. Ibid., xi. 2. 2 ‘si quis mortui sarcofacum abstulerit, dum sibi vult habere remedium’, etc.

page 10 note 5 Greg. Tur. H.F., v. 43.

page 10 note 6 Lantier, R., ‘Le cimetière wisigothique d'Estagel’, Gallia, I (1943), 153–88, at 183.

page 11 note 1 Text in Kauffmann, F., Aus der Schule des Wulfila, Texte und Untersuchungen zur altgermanischen Religionsgeschichte, I, Strasburg 1899, 75. Cf. Schmidt, K. D., Die Bekehrung der Germanen zum Christentum, Göttingen 1939, I. 247 n. 4.

page 11 note 2 Some of the Ostrogoths living in the Crimea were Christian at a far earlier date, but we are concerned with barbarian peoples as wholes.

page 11 note 3 One of the few scholars who rejects the conjecture is Schmidt, op. cit., i. 240 n. 1; but even he (Ibid., 244) believes that Eriulf, Fravitta's rival (for whom see Eunapius, frag. 60), was a Christian, a view for which there is no evidence and which is improbable in itself.

page 11 note 4 Art. cit., 261.

page 11 note 5 Amm. Marc, xxxi. 12. 8.

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