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Jordanes On The Emigration Of The Goths Gepidae And Herulians The Migration Saga Of The Burgundians Traces Of An Alamannic Migration Saga


Source: Teutonic Mythology

The most populous and mighty of all the Teutonic tribes was during a
long period the Gothic, which carried victorious weapons over all
eastern and southern Europe and Asia Minor, and founded kingdoms between
the Don in the East and the Atlantic ocean and the Pillars of Hercules
in the West and South. The traditions of the Goths also referred the
cradle of the race to Scandinavia. Jordanes, a Romanised Goth, wrote in
the sixth century the history of his people. In the North, he says,
there is a great ocean, and in this ocean there is a large island called
Scandza, out of whose loins our race burst forth like a swarm of bees
and spread over Europe. In its capacity as cradle of the Gothic race,
and of other Teutonic tribes, this island Scandza is clearly of great
interest to Jordanes, the more so since he, through his father Vamod or
Alano-Vamut, regarded himself as descended from the same royal family as
that from which the Amalians, the famous royal family of the East Goths,
traced their ancestry. On this account Jordanes gives as complete a
description of this island as possible. He first tells what the Greek
and Roman authors Claudius Ptolemy and Pomponius Mela have written about
it, but he also reports a great many things which never before were
known in literature, unless they were found in the lost Historia
Gothorum by Cassiodorus--things which either Jordanes himself or
Cassiodorus had learned from Northmen who were members of the large
Teutonic armies then in Italy. Jordanes also points out, with an air of
superiority, that while the geographer Ptolemy did not know more than
seven nations living on the island Scandza, he is able to enumerate many
more. Unfortunately several of the Scandinavian tribe-names given by him
are so corrupted by the transcriber that it is useless to try to restore
them. It is also evident that Jordanes himself has had a confused notion
of the proper geographical or political application of the names. Some
of them, however, are easily recognisable as the names of tribes in
various parts of Sweden and Norway, as, for instance, Vagoth,
Ostrogothae, Finnaithae (inhabitants of Finved), Bergio, Hallin,
Raumaricii, Ragnaricii, Rani. He gives us special accounts of a
Scandinavian people, which he calls sometimes Svehans and sometimes
Svethidi, and with these words there is every reason to believe that he
means the Swedes in the wider or more limited application of this term.
This is what he tells about the Svehans or Svethidi: The Svehans are in
connection with the Thuringians living on the continent, that Teutonic
people which is particularly celebrated for their excellent horses. The
Svehans are excellent hunters, who kill the animals whose skins through
countless hands are sent to the Romans, and are treasured by them as the
finest of furs. This trade cannot have made the Svehans rich. Jordanes
gives us to understand that their economical circumstances were not
brilliant, but all the more brilliant were their clothes. He says they
dressed ditissime. Finally, he has been informed that the Svethidi are
superior to other races in stature and corporal strength, and that the
Danes are a branch of the Svethidi. What Jordanes relates about the
excellent horses of the Swedes is corroborated by the traditions which
the Icelanders have preserved. The fact that so many tribes inhabited
the island Scandza strengthens his conviction that this island is the
cradle of many of the peoples who made war on and invaded the Roman
Empire. The island Scandza, he says, has been officina gentium,
vagina nationum--the source of races, the mother of nations. And
thence--he continues, relying on the traditions and songs of his own
people--the Goths, too, have emigrated. This emigration occurred under
the leadership of a chief named Berig, and he thinks he knows where
they landed when they left their ships, and that they, like the
Longobardians, on their progress came in conflict with the Vandals
before they reached the regions north of the Black Sea, where they
afterwards founded the great Gothic kingdom which flourished when the
Huns invaded Europe.

The saga current among the Goths, that they had emigrated from
Scandinavia, ascribed the same origin to the Gepidae. The Gepidae were a
brave but rather sluggish Teutonic tribe, who shared the fate of the
Goths when the Huns invaded Europe, and, like the Goths, they cast off
the Hunnish yoke after the death of Attila. The saga, as Jordanes found
it, stated that when the ancestors of the Goths left Scandza, the whole
number of the emigrants did not fill more than three ships. Two of them
came to their destination at the same time; but the third required more
time, and therefore the first-comers called those who arrived last
Gepanta (possibly Gepaita), which, according to Jordanes, means those
tarrying, or the slow ones, and this name changed in course of time into
Gepidae. That the interpretation is taken from Gothic traditions is

Jordanes has heard a report that even the warlike Teutonic Herulians had
come to Germany from Scandinavia. According to the report, the Herulians
had not emigrated voluntarily from the large islands, but had been
driven away by the Svethidi, or by their descendants, the Danes. That
the Herulians themselves had a tradition concerning their Scandinavian
origin is corroborated by history. In the beginning of the sixth
century, it happened that this people, after an unsuccessful war with
the Longobardians, were divided into two branches, of which the one
received land from the emperor Anastasius south of the Danube, while the
other made a resolve, which has appeared strange to all historians,
viz., to seek a home on the Scandinavian peninsula. The circumstances
attending this resolution make it still more strange. When they had
passed the Slavs, they came to uninhabited regions--uninhabited,
probably, because they had been abandoned by the Teutons, and had not
yet been occupied by the Slavs. In either case, they were open to the
occupation of the Herulians; but they did not settle there. We
misunderstand their character if we suppose that they failed to do so
from fear of being disturbed in their possession of them. Among all the
Teutonic tribes none were more distinguished than the Herulians for
their indomitable desire for war, and for their rash plans. Their
conduct furnishes evidence of that thoughtlessness with which the
historian has characterised them. After penetrating the wilderness, they
came to the landmarks of the Varinians, and then to those of the Danes.
These granted the Herulians a free passage, whereupon the adventurers,
in ships which the Danes must have placed at their disposal, sailed over
the sea to the island "Thule," and remained there. Procopius, the East
Roman historian who records this (De Bello Goth., ii., 15), says that
on the immense island Thule, in whose northern part the midnight sun can
be seen, thirteen large tribes occupy its inhabitable parts, each tribe
having its own king. Excepting the Skee Finns, who clothe themselves in
skins and live from the chase, these Thulitic tribes, he says, are
scarcely to be distinguished from the people dwelling farther south in
Europe. One of the largest tribes is the Gauts (the Goetar). The
Herulians went to the Gauts and were received by them.

Some decades later it came to pass that the Herulians remaining in South
Europe, and dwelling in Illyria, were in want of a king. They resolved
to send messengers to their kinsmen who had settled in Scandinavia,
hoping that some descendant of their old royal family might be found
there who was willing to assume the dignity of king among them. The
messengers returned with two brothers who belonged to the ancient family
of rulers, and these were escorted by 200 young Scandinavian Herulians.

As Jordanes tells us that the Herulians actually were descended from the
great northern island, then this seems to me to explain this remarkable
resolution. They were seeking new homes in that land which in their old
songs was described as having belonged to their fathers. In their
opinion, it was a return to the country which contained the ashes of
their ancestors. According to an old middle age source, Vita
Sigismundi, the Burgundians also had old traditions about a
Scandinavian origin. As will be shown further on, the Burgundian saga
was connected with the same emigration chief as that of the Saxons and
Franks (see No. 123).

Reminiscences of an Alamannic migration saga can be traced in the
traditions found around the Vierwaldstaedter Lake. The inhabitants of
the Canton Schwitz have believed that they originally came from Sweden.
It is fair to assume that this tradition in the form given to it in
literature has suffered a change, and that the chroniclers, on account
of the similarity between Sweden and Schwitz, have transferred the home
of the Alamannic Switzians to Sweden, while the original popular
tradition has, like the other Teutonic migration sagas, been satisfied
with the more vague idea that the Schwitzians came from the country in
the sea north of Germany when they settled in their Alpine valleys. In
the same regions of Switzerland popular traditions have preserved the
memory of an exploit which belongs to the Teutonic mythology, and is
there performed by the great archer Ibor (see No. 108), and as he
reappears in the Longobardian tradition as a migration chief, the
possibility lies near at hand, that he originally was no stranger to the
Alamannic migration saga.

Next: The Teutonic Emigration Saga Found In Tacitus

Previous: The Frankish Migration Saga

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