When and WhereThe Visigoths were a Germanic group considered to have separated from other Goths around the fourth century, when they moved from Dacia (now in Romania) into the Roman Empire. Over time they moved further west, into and down Italy, then to Spain – where many settled - and back east again into Gaul (now France). The Spanish kingdom remained until the early eighth century, when they were conquered by Muslim invaders.
East-German Immigrant OriginsThe Visigoths origins are with the Theruingi a group comprised of several peoples – Slavs, Germans, Sarmatians and others – under the recently acquired leadership of Gothic Germans. They came to historical prominence when they moved, along with the Greuthungi, from Dacia, across the Danube and into the Roman Empire, possibly because of pressure from Huns attacking westwards. There may have been 200,000 of them. The Theruingi were “allowed” into the empire and settled in return for military service, but rebelled against Roman strictures, thanks to the greed and mistreatment of local Roman commanders, and began plundering the Balkans.
In 378 CE they met and defeated the Roman Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople, killing him in the process. In 382 the next Emperor, Theodosius, tried a different tactic, settling them in the Balkans as federates and tasking them with the defence of the frontier. Theodosius also used the Goths in his armies on campaign elsewhere. During this period they converted to Arian Christianity.
VisigothsAt the end of the fourth century a confederation of Theruingi and Greuthungi, plus their subject people, led by Alaric became known as the Visigoths (although they may only have considered themselves Goths) and began moving again, first to Greece and then into Italy, which they raided on numerous occasions. Alaric played off rival sides of the Empire, a tactic which included plundering, in order to secure a title for himself and regular supplies of food and cash for his people (who had no land of their own). In 410 they even sacked Rome. They decided to try for Africa, but Alaric died before they could move.
Alaric’s successor, Ataulphus, then led them west, where they settled in Spain and part of Gaul. Shortly after they were asked back east by the future emperor Constantius III, who settled them as federates in Aquitania Secunda, now in France. During this period - what we now regard - as their first proper king emerged, Theodoric, who ruled until he was killed at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451.
The Kingdom of the VisigothsIn 475, Theodoric’s son and successor, Euric, declared the Visigoths independent of Rome. Under him the Visigoths codified their laws, in Latin, and saw their Gallic lands at their widest extent. However, the Visigoths came under pressure from the growing Frankish kingdom and in 507 Euric’s successor, Alaric II, was defeated and killed at the Battle of Poitiers by Clovis. Consequently the Visigoths lost all of their Gallic lands bar a thin southern strip called Septimania.
Their remaining kingdom was much of Spain, with a capital at Toledo. Holding together the Iberian Peninsula under one central government has been called a remarkable achievement given the diverse nature of the region. This was helped by the conversion in the sixth century of the royal family and leading bishops to Catholic Christianity. There were splits and rebel forces, including a byzantine region of Spain, but they were overcome.