Name of the Goths
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Name of the Goths
Runic inscriptions on the Ring of Pietroassa provides critical evidence on the name of the Goths

The name of the Goths is one of the most discussed topics in Germanic philology.[1][2] It is first recorded by Greco-Roman writers in the 3rd century AD, although names that are probably related appear earlier. Derived from Proto-Germanic *Gut?z ~ *Gutaniz, it is closely related to and probably means the same as the names of both the Geats of southern Sweden and Gutes of Gotland. The implications of these similarities, and the actual meaning of the Gothic name, are disputed in scholarship. Although the Goths have disappeared as a people, their name has survived in various appellations up to the present day.

Endonym and exonym

In the Gothic language, the Goths referred to themselves collectively as the *Gut-þiuda "Gothic people", attested as dative singular Gutþiudai.[1][3] Gutthiuda could also mean "Land of the Gothic people".[4]

The name of the Goths was probably first recorded by Greek and Roman writers as Gutones, an exonym referring to a people dwelling in the Vistula region during the 1st-2nd century AD. Gradually, forms written with "o" instead of "u", and "th" instead of simple "t", came to dominate in both Latin (e.g. Gothi) and Greek ().[5] Within medieval Germanic languages, the Goths are attested as Gotan (plural) in Old English and as Goti (singular) in Old Norse.[6][7]

A Germanic an-stem variant of the name, *Gutan- (Goth), is inferred from a genitive plural form gutani, found on the Pietroassa inscription and possibly equivalent to Biblical Gothic Gutan?, and from the aforementioned Germano-Latin form Gutones ~ Gotones.[7][1][8][9]

Another group of related ethnonyms is believed to be attested in Scandinavia, where the oldest forms of the name of the Geats were built from a root Gaut-. This could be an ablaut form of Gut-, although it has also been proposed that this was the normal stem corresponding to *Gutans, despite the different vowel.[10][11]


The Proto-Germanic form of Goth is reconstructed as *Gutaz (pl. *Gut?z), which co-existed with an n-stem variant *Gut?(n) (pl. *Gutaniz) observable in the forms Gutones and gutani.[7][12][13] *Gutaz was also borrowed into Proto-Baltic as *Gudaz, as attested in the Old Prussian prefix gud- (in place names) and in the Lithuanian name Gùdas, meaning 'Polish' or 'Belarusian', here transferred to the peoples that replaced the Goths south of their territory.[6][7]

Etymology of the name 'Goth'.

These forms are identical to the reconstructed Proto-Germanic name of the Gutes (Old Norse pl. Gutar ~ Gotar < *Gut?z), a North Germanic tribe that dwelled on the island of Gotland.[6][14][12] The adjective gutniskr ~ gotniskr ("Gothic, Gutnish"), which descends from an earlier *gutan-iska?, and the noun gutnar ~ gotnar ("men"), whose ancestral form is *gutaniz, also give evidence of the n-stem.[6][14] Scholars have noted that Old Norse sources do not distinguish between Gutes and Goths.[6][12]

The ethnonym Geats (or Gauts; Old Norse gautar) stems from Proto-Germanic *Gaut?z (singular *Gautaz),[15][16][12] which shares the same etymology and possibly the same meaning as *Gut?z ~ *Gutaniz.[15][17] The root gaut- can also be found in the names of the Göta älv river in Sweden, in Götaland (the Swedish homeland of the Geats/Gauts), and in the name of *Gaut (PGmc *Gautaz), the mythical ancestor of the Goths attested by Jordanes as Gapt.[8][18][19] The root gut- is also possibly attested in Guthalus, a river in Germania mentioned by Pliny the Elder and which could refer to a 'Gothic river'.[19]

The roots gut- and gaut- are generally thought to be related to the Proto-Germanic verb *geutanan, meaning "to pour" (cf. Goth. giutan),[20][1][21] which is in turn derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *ewd- ("to pour").[22] It is not clear, however, whether the name *Gutaz stems from *Gautaz or the other way around, or else directly from the verb *geutanan.[20]

In any case, as Wolfram explains, the existence of various peoples sharing this name does not necessarily imply large-scale migrations of one unified people: "not entire peoples, but small successful clans, the bearers of prestigious traditions, emigrated and became the founders of new gentes".[23]


Though the etymology of the Gothic name connects to words for pouring, its actual meaning remains uncertain.[2] Various interpretations have been suggested: the pouring could refer to a river or a flooded homeland, the name could mean "people" in the sense of being "seed-spreaders" or "progenitors", or else refer to the name of an ancestor.[21][24]

Wolfram interprets the Gothic name as meaning "men",[25] and suggests that it might have meant "out-pourers" in the sense of "seed, the progenitors, the men".[24] Some, including Peter Heather,[26] have also suggested that Goths meant "the people".[1] In Old Norse, Goti can mean "Goth" or "man", and gotnar signifies "men".[6]

Another theory is to interpret Goths as the "seed-spreaders", hence the "stallions", "horses", or some other impregnating animal which may have been a deity. The term goti is used in Old Icelandic for "horse".[21][1] The root gut- is also found in an Old Norse and later Scandinavian verbs meaning "to give birth". On this account, Icelandic linguist Ásgeir Blöndal Magnússon suggested that the Gothic name may have referred to those "born and bred" in the north.[27]

As the word Goth is closely related to the Proto-Germanic verb "to pour", Anders Kaliff has favoured the idea that the Gothic name may mean "the people living where the river has their outlet" or "the people who are connected by the rivers and the sea".[28]

Jordanes writes in Getica that the ancestor of the Goths was named Gapt (Proto-Germanic: *Gaut).[15][8] In Scandinavia, Gaut was considered to be a manifestation of the Germanic god Odin,[29] and the Geats derived their ethnonym from this name. The Geats and royal Lombards and Anglo-Saxons claimed descent from Gaut.[30] Wolfram notes that the Gothic name may thus mean "sons of Gaut".[21]

Regardless of the meaning of the Gothic name, Herwig Wolfram writes that it is certain that "the tribal name Goths means the same as Gauts". According to Wolfram, this is of bigger importance than its actual meaning.[21] Elias Wessén writes that it is impossible to separate the words Gutar, Götar, Goths, *Gutans and Gauti from each other; they all mean the same.[31][32]


The name of the Goths is generally believed to have been first attested by Greco-Roman writes in the 1st century AD in the form Gutones.[9][33][34] This name was applied to peoples located near the lower Vistula.[2] Herwig Wolfram suggests that Gutones may have meant "young" Goths or "great" Goths.[35]

The Greek geographer Strabo mentions a people called the Butones (Greek: ), who came under the domination of the Marcomannic king Maroboduus.[36][37] Most scholars believe this name should be corrected to Gutones (Greek?).[38][9][39] Thorsten Andersson, Peter Heather and Wolfram considers Strabo as the first writer to have mentioned the Gothic name.[9][33][34][40]

Decades after Strabo, in his Natural History, Pliny the Elder mentions the Gutones as one of the peoples of Germania.[41][42][43] In an earlier chapter, Pliny writes that the 4th century BC traveler Pytheas encountered a people called the Guiones in Germania.[44] This name is often corrected to Gutones, but several other emendations have been proposed for the text of Pliny.[15][45]

In the work Germania, published some years after Pliny, Tacitus mentions the Gotones/Gothones as one of the Germani.[46][47][48] In a later work, The Annals, Tacitus again mentions the Gotones.[49][47][50] The name Gotones/Gothones mentioned by Tacitus is generally considered the same as Gutones.[39][51]

In his work Geography, the 2nd-century geographer Ptolemy mentions the Gutones/Gythones as one of the peoples of Sarmatia.[52][53][54] He also mentions the Gutae/Gautae/Goutai of southern Scandia.[55][12][54] The latter are variants of the name of the Geats and closely related to the name of the Goths.[12]

After Ptolemy, the Gothic name is not attested again until the late 3rd century, when the name Goths (Latin: Gothi) is explicitly recorded for the first time for a group of peoples living north of the Danube.[2] The Gothic name is attested in Shapur I's famous trilingual inscription at Naqsh-e Rostam, which is dated to 262.[2] According to Shapur, "When first I was come to the imperial throne, Gordian Caesar (Gordian III) assembled a force of Goths and Germans from all of Rome and made an inroad into Assyria against the Aryan empire and us."[56] The Middle Persian inscription is damaged at this point, but the Parthian reads Gvt (Goths) and the Greek Gouththon ("of Goths").[57]

In 269 the Roman emperor Claudius II assumed the name Claudius Gothicus.[2] No ancient sources make a connection between the names Gutones and Goths.[58][59] Nevertheless, philologists and linguists have no doubt that these are the same names.[51][60] Historian Arne Søby Christensen on the other hand argues that the similarities between the names are not significant.[58] Heather has argued that while this similar name on its could arguably be an "accidental resemblance", there were also other ethnic names, the Vandals and Rugii, found in what is now Poland in the 1st century, which were similarly found south of the Carpathians near the Goths in subsequent centuries.[61]

A runic inscription on the Ring of Pietroassa can be read as Gutaniwiheilag, which is usually interpreted as 'the sacred heritage of the Goths'.[62] The name Gutani probably reflects a form of the Gothic endonym *Gutans.[63][8] Alternatively it reflects a form of the ethnonym of the Gutes.[62]


The name Goths was sometimes applied also to several non-Gothic peoples, including Burgundians, Vandals, Gepids, Rugii, Scirii and even the non-Germanic Alans. Despite the scarce attestation of their languages, these peoples, with the exception of the Alans, are often referred to as East Germanic peoples. Herwig Wolfram has instead proposed that all these peoples still be referred to as Gothic peoples.[64]

From the late 4th century, the region of Dacia in the Balkans came to be referred to as Gothia, as this region had fallen under the control of Goths.[2] Within the Roman Empire the two major Gothic groups were the Visigoths and Ostrogoths. The Ostrogothic name is attested in Milan in 392, while the Visigothic name was invented by Cassiodorus centuries later, having earlier been simply Vesi. According to Wolfram, Visigoths means "the Good" or "the Noble" Goths, while Ostrogoths means "Goths of the rising sun" or "Goths glorified by the rising sun", i.e. "East Goths".[65] The 6th century Frankish Table of Nations refers to Romanized Goths of Spain as Valagothi.[65]

In the 6th century, Procopius and Jordanes mention the Gautoi and Gauthigoths of Scandia. These were probably Geats[15][2] Jordanes also writes that the area settled by the Goths under king Berig was still called Gothiscandza.[66] This name means "Gothic-Scandia" or "Gothic coast".[2]

In the 8th century, the area of Septimania in the Carolingian Empire was known as Gotia. This area had earlier been under the control of Visigoths. From the 8th to 10th century, a people called the Gothogreeks are mentioned as living in the western coast of Asia Minor. It is often suggested that the Spanish region Catalonia is a compound of Gothia-Alania, but this is probably not the case.[2]

From the 12th century, art and architecture supposed to be lacking refinement were dismissed as being "Gothic". From the 15th century, the name had been appropriated for specific styles which are now known as Gothic art and Gothic architecture.[67]

In the Russian Empire, the Lithuanians would refer to Russians pejoratively by the name Gudas (i. e. Gudes). This name is attested from the 16th century but is believed to be very old. Linguists have suggested that this is a vernacular name of the Goths. Connections have been proposed between this name and Gdynia and Gda?sk, but this is uncertain.[2]

In the early twentieth century, the Danish philologist Gudmund Schütte advocated renaming the Germanic peoples to Gothonic peoples, because he considered the name of the Goths the earliest recorded Germanic ethnonym.[68]

The Gothic name survives in the names of Götaland and Gotland, which according to Wolfram are "actual Gothic-Gautic names".[2] In Spanish the Gothic name survives in the word godo, meaning 'noble' or 'rich'.[3] In the Canary Islands, Chile, Bolivia, Cuba and Ecuador, it is or has been a pejorative for the Peninsulares (coming from the Spanish part of the Iberian Peninsula),[69] who would claim to have pure noble Gothic blood as opposed to the dubious pedigree of locals.

Historical significance

The origin and meaning of the name of the Goths is often considered of great significance to research on the origins of the Goths.[70] On the basis of name evidence, Piergiuseppe Scardigli writes that is impossible to deny that there was a relationship between the Geats and the Goths.[71]

Based on the similarity between the Gothic name and those of the Gutes and Geats, scholars such as Wolfram have suggested that the Goths may have been an offshoot of either of these peoples.[15][72] Wolfram means this not in a "biological" sense, but in the sense that "prestige bearing names" could be carried between groups of people.[73]

Anders Kaliff and Ludwig Rübekeil suggest that the Goths, Gutes and Geats were rather all at one point part of the same community of merchant-warriors active on both sides of the Baltic Sea.[28][15]

Ásgeir Blöndal Magnússon suggested that the name of the Goths, Gutes and Geats may originally have been applied to a northeastern Germanic group native to Scandinavia, who were distinguished from more southwesterly Celtic-influenced Germanic tribes known as Teutones. Such a distinction might be reflected in the conflicts between the Æsir and Vanir in Norse mythology. The Vanir were particularly revered in Sweden (see Yngvi and Freyr), while the Sagas record that Odin and the Æsir came to Scandinavia from the south. This supposed rift might be the reason why it has been difficult to document any common endonym among the early Germanic peoples.[27]

Other names

When mentioned by Greco-Roman scholars from the 3rd century AD, the Goths are frequently referred to as Scythians.[74] Already in the first half of the third century, Dexippos, whose writing has only survived in fragments, referred to the Goths of his time as Scythians, although from the surviving fragments he did not necessarily intend to assert that they had common origins.[75][76]

Starting in the 4th century authors such as Claudian, Orosius, Saint Jerome and Augustine of Hippo making a simpler equation between the Goths to the Getae, a tradition followed later by Cassiodorus, Jordanes and Isidore of Seville.[74][77][78] However, modern historians have concluded that this equation is certainly incorrect.[74]

In the late 4th century AD, Ambrose equated the Goths to Gog in the Book of Ezekiel, who was associated with barbarians from the north.[74][79] Isidore of Seville later suggested that this proposal must have been assumed by previous authors because of the similarity in sound between "Gog" and "Goth".[80]

See also

Notes and sources


  1. ^ a b c d e f Lehmann 1986, pp. 163-164.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Wolfram 1990, pp. 19-24.
  3. ^ a b Scardigli 2002, p. 557.
  4. ^ Wolfram 1990, pp. 20, 22, 90.
  5. ^ Lehmann (1986, p. 164) and Andersson (1998b, p. 402) cites the examples collected by Schönfeld in 1911 (p.120-p.123).
  6. ^ a b c d e f de Vries 1962, p. 183.
  7. ^ a b c d Orel 2003, p. 147.
  8. ^ a b c d Brink 2002, p. 688.
  9. ^ a b c d Andersson 1998b, p. 402.
  10. ^ Brink 2002.
  11. ^ Rübekeil 2002.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Strid 2011, p. 43.
  13. ^ Haubrichs, Wolfgang (2017). "Krieg, Volk und Verwandtschaft. Zur Struktur und kulturellen Signifikanz ostgotischer Frauennamen". Archiv für Kulturgeschichte. 99 (2): 297-340. doi:10.7788/akg-2017-990202. ISSN 0003-9233. ostgerm. *gutô ,Gotin'
  14. ^ a b Brink 2002, p. 688; Brink 2008, pp. 90, 110
  15. ^ a b c d e f g Rübekeil 2002, pp. 603-604.
  16. ^ Brink 2008, pp. 90, 110.
  17. ^ Andersson 1996, pp. 13ff.
  18. ^ Orel 2003, p. 129.
  19. ^ a b Wolfram 1990, pp. 20-21.
  20. ^ a b Orel 2003, pp. 129, 147.
  21. ^ a b c d e Wolfram 1990, p. 21.
  22. ^ Lehmann 1986, p. 156.
  23. ^ Wolfram 1990, p. 39.
  24. ^ a b Wolfram 2004, p. 47.
  25. ^ Wolfram 1990, p. 12.
  26. ^ Heather 2018, p. 673.
  27. ^ a b Kristinsson 2010, pp. 144, 175.
  28. ^ a b Kaliff 2008, p. 236.
  29. ^ Wolfram 1990, p. 110.
  30. ^ Wolfram 1997, pp. 26-28.
  31. ^ Kaliff 2008, p. 225.
  32. ^ Wessén 1969, p. 28.
  33. ^ a b Wolfram 1990, pp. 12-13, 20, 23: "Goths--or Gutones, as the Roman sources called them... The Gutonic immigrants became Goths the very moment the Mediterranean world considered them "Scythians"... The Gothic name appears for the first time between A.D. 16 and 18. We do not, however, find the strong form Guti but only the derivative form Gutones... Hereafter, whenever the Gutones and Guti are mentioned, these terms refer to the Goths."
  34. ^ a b Heather 1998, pp. 2, 21, 30. "Goths are first mentioned occupying territory in what is now Poland in the first century AD... The history of people labelled "Goths" thus spans 700 years... [T]he Wielbark culture.... took shape in the middle of the first century AD... in Pomerania and lands either side of the lower Vistula... [T]his is the broad area where our few literary sources place a group called Goths at this time... Tacitus Germania 43-4 places them not quite on the Baltic coast; Ptolemy Geography 3.5.8 locates them east of the Vistula; Strabo Geography 7.1.3 (if Butones should be emended to Gutones) broadly agrees with Tacitus... The mutually confirmatory information of ancient sources and the archaeological record both suggest that Goths can first be identified beside the Vistula. It is here that this attempt to write their history will begin."
  35. ^ Wolfram 1990, p. 20.
  36. ^ Strabo 1924, Book VII, Chap. 1. Sec. 3
  37. ^ Christensen 2002, pp. 32-33.
  38. ^ Strabo 1924, Book VII, Chap. 1. Sec. 3. "For "Butones" it is fairly certain that Strabo wrote "Gutones" (the Goths)."
  39. ^ a b Christensen 2002, pp. 32-33, 38-39. "During the first century and a half AD, four authors mention a people also normally identified with 'the Goths'. They seem to appear for the first time in the writings of the geographer Strabo... It is normally assumed that [the Butones/Gutones] are identical with the Goths... It has been taken for granted that these Gotones were identical to the Goths... Finally, around 150, Klaudios Ptolemaios (or Ptolemy) writes of certain [Gutones/Gythones] who are also normally identified with 'the Goths'... Ptolemy lists the [Gutae], also identified by Gothic scholars with the Goths..."
  40. ^ Wolfram 1990, pp. 20, 38: "The Gothic name appears for the first time between A.D. 16 and 18. We do not, however, find the strong form Guti but only the derivative form Gutones... They were first mentioned by Strabo."
  41. ^ Pliny 1855, Book IV, Chap. 28
  42. ^ Wolfram 1990, p. 40.
  43. ^ Christensen 2002, pp. 34-35.
  44. ^ Pliny 1855, Book XXXVIII, Chap. 11
  45. ^ Christensen 2002, pp. 25-31.
  46. ^ Tacitus 1876a, XLIV
  47. ^ a b Wolfram 1990, pp. 40-41.
  48. ^ Christensen 2002, pp. 35-36.
  49. ^ Tacitus 1876b, 62
  50. ^ Christensen 2002, pp. 36-38.
  51. ^ a b Heather 2010, p. 115. "In the period of Dacian and Sarmatian dominance, groups known as Goths - or perhaps 'Gothones' or 'Guthones' - inhabited lands far to the north-west, beside the Baltic. Tacitus placed them there at the end of the first century, and Ptolemy did likewise in the middle of the second, the latter explicitly among a number of groups said to inhabit the mouth of the Vistula. Philologists have no doubt, despite the varying transliterations into Greek and Latin, that it is the same group name that suddenly shifted its epicentre from northern Poland to the Black Sea in the third century."
  52. ^ Ptolemy 1932, 3.5
  53. ^ Wolfram 1990, pp. 37-39.
  54. ^ a b Christensen 2002, pp. 38-39.
  55. ^ Ptolemy 1932, 2.10
  56. ^ Sprengling 1940, p. 363.
  57. ^ Sprengling 1940, pp. 360-361.
  58. ^ a b Christensen 2002, p. 343. "They might possibly have been mentioned in some geographical and ethnographical works dating from the first century, but the similarity in the names is not significant, and no antique author later considers them to be the forefathers of the Goths... No one sees this connection, even during the Great Migration. Chronologically it would, of course, be quite a realistic possibility..."
  59. ^ Wolfram 1990, pp. 13. "No ancient ethnographer made a connection between the Goths and the Gutones. The Gutonic immigrants became Goths the very moment the Mediterranean world considered them "Scythians".
  60. ^ Christensen 2002, p. 41. "However, linguists believe there is an indisputable connection."
  61. ^ Heather, 1998 & 115-116.
  62. ^ a b Strid 2010, p. 445.
  63. ^ Brink 2008, p. 104.
  64. ^ Wolfram 1990, pp. 19-20.
  65. ^ a b Wolfram 1990, pp. 24-26.
  66. ^ Jordanes 1908, p. IV (25).
  67. ^ Homan 2006, p. 49.
  68. ^ Schütte 1912, pp. 69-98.
  69. ^ "godo". Diccionario de la lengua española (in Spanish) (electrónica 23.3 ed.). Real Academia Española, Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española. 2019. Retrieved 2020.
  70. ^ Scardigli 2002, p. 553.
  71. ^ Scardigli 2002, p. 556. "That a relationship exists between [the Geats] and the ancient Goths can hardly be denied, but to explain it is difficult."
  72. ^ Wolfram 1990, p. 23.
  73. ^ For an example of Wolfram's explanation see [1].
  74. ^ a b c d Wolfram 1990, pp. 28-29.
  75. ^ Christensen 2002, p. 233.
  76. ^ Wolfram 1990, p. 28.
  77. ^ Christensen 2002, p. 51.
  78. ^ Isidore of Seville 1970.
  79. ^ Christensen 2002, p. 44.
  80. ^ Christensen 2002, pp. 313-314.

Ancient sources

Modern sources

Further reading

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