Wednesday, August 29, 2012

4 Stages of Gothic—History & Culture

[This is Part 1; the other 3 parts address Gothic Architecture, the Gothic Revival, and Fiction.]

From the Middle Ages until 1974, the Kings of Sweden claimed the title Rex Sweorum et Gothorum (King of Swedes and Goths). This was a very old title, connoting not control over the subculture begun in 1980s England, but the rule over a people that have long since been diluted from the European scene.

Current belief is that the various groups that are collectively (and perhaps erroneously) called "Goths" in classical and early medieval texts probably sprang from a single ethnic group that existed in the first millennium BCE. The word from which their name comes is related to the Geats of Beowulf fame, to Götaland and the island Gotland in southern Sweden, and of course lends itself to the tribes that were instrumental in the Fall of Rome: the Ostrogoths and Visigoths. Various sources, for instance the history Getica by the 6th century Roman Jordanes, tells us that Goths left Scandinavia in waves due to overcrowding and settled in various parts of eastern Europe. Eventually, they moved westward, attacking Byzantium and migrating as far as Crete and Cyprus. An attempt in 269CE to invade Italy was defeated by the Roman army, with heavy casualties on both sides. Two centuries later, however, the Goths would succeed in taking Rome.

The Goths were willing to absorb ideas from people they met. Their art was influenced by Greek and Roman styles. In turn, their methods of embedding gems and colored glass into objects made of gold was adopted by others and used for centuries.
Gothic alphabet and number symbols.

One idea they absorbed was Christianity. Bishop Wulfila (c.310-383) was a Greek-Goth Christian who fled with his followers to northern Bulgaria to escape persecution. There he developed the Gothic alphabet so that he could translate the Bible into the Gothic language. Although he managed to convert many Goths to Christianity, it was Arian Christianity. Arianism had been declared heretical, so when Arian Goths met other Christian groups, they were not always welcomed with open arms. In fact, some modern scholars believe Romans felt more threatened by the Arianism of the Goths than by the political changes that would result from conquest. As for Wulfila's alphabet and Bible: we have very few examples of Gothic writing. It is one of the earliest Germanic languages recorded, but it has completely died out and no modern languages are descended from it.

Although the Goths died out, however, their name endured.

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