The Northern Way

The Origin and Deeds of the Goths

Introductory Note

Jordanes, as he himself tells us a couple of times, was of Gothic descent and wrote this work as a summary of Cassiodorus' much longer treatment of the history of the Goths. Because Cassiodorus' book no longer survives, Jordanes' treatment is often our only source for some of the Gothic history it describes. He wrote the Getica during the later stages of the reign of Justinian, not too long after the demise of the Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy.
      Jordanes divided his work, apart from the brief introduction and conclusion, into four main sections (reflected in the contents below). These are 1) a Geographical Introduction; 2) the United Goths; 3) the Visigoths; 4) and the Ostrogoths. Other large sections, such as the discussion of the Huns, he treats as digressions of a sort (the more interesting or important of these have been added to the contents below). Mierow prefaces his translation with a detailed literary analysis of all the topics in the text; this is not, however, reproduced here.
      The text of the translation presented here was scanned from a printed copy of Mierow's book and checked carefully for errors (a few misprints in that book have been corrected as well). This hypertext version has been designed for the use of students of Ancient History at the University of Calgary. I have included the (Roman) chapter and (arabic) section numbers to facilitate specific citation (or to find a specific reference; these numbers may be found in Mierow's translation as well, though the section numbers are in his margins) and have added internal links for purposes of navigation.

J. Vanderspoel, Department of Greek, Latin and Ancient History, University of Calgary



Though it had been my wish to glide in my little boat by the shore of a peaceful coast and, as a certain writer says, to gather little fishes from the pools of the ancients, you, brother Castalius, bid me set my sails toward the deep. You urge me to leave the little work I have in hand, that is, the abbreviation of the Chronicles, and to condense in my own style in this small book the twelve volumes of the Senator on the origin and deeds of the Getae from olden time to the present day, descending through the generations of the kings. (2) Truly a hard command, and imposed by one who seems unwilling to realize the burden of the task. Nor do you note this, that my utterance is too slight to fill so magnificent a trumpet of speech as his. But above every burden is the fact that I have no access to his books that I may follow his thought. Still--and let me lie not--I have in times past read the books a second time by his steward's loan for a three days' reading. The words I recall not, but the sense and the deeds related I think I retain entire. (3) To this I have added fitting matters from some Greek and Latin histories. I have also put in an introduction and a conclusion, and have inserted many things of my own authorship. Wherefore reproach me not, but receive and read with gladness what you have asked me to write. If aught be insufficiently spoken and you remember it, do you as a neighbor to our race add to it, praying for me, dearest brother. The Lord be with you. Amen.

(Geographical Introduction)


(4) Our ancestors, as Orosius relates, were of the opinion that the circle of the whole world was surrounded by the girdle of Ocean on three sides. Its three parts they called Asia, Europe and Africa. Concerning this threefold division of the earth's extent there are almost innumerable writers, who not only explain the situations of cities and places, but also measure out the number of miles and paces to give more clearness. Moreover they locate the islands interspersed amid the waves, both the greater and also the lesser islands, called Cyclades or Sporades, as situated in the vast flood of the Great Sea. (5) But the impassable farther bounds of Ocean not only has no one attempted to describe, but no man has been allowed to reach; for by reason of obstructing seaweed and the failing of the winds it is plainly inaccessible and is unknown to any save to Him who made it. (6) But the nearer border of this sea, which we call the circle of the world, surrounds its coasts like a wreath. This has become clearly known to men of inquiring mind, even to such as desired to write about it. For not only is the coast itself inhabited, but certain islands off in the sea are habitable. Thus there are to the East in the Indian Ocean, Hippodes, Iamnesia, Solis Perusta (which though not habitable, is yet of great length and breadth), besides Taprobane, a fair island wherein there are towns or estates and ten strongly fortified cities. But there is yet another, the lovely Silefantina, and Theros also. (7) These, though not clearly described by any writer, are nevertheless well filled with inhabitants. This same Ocean has in its western region certain islands known to almost everyone by reason of the great number of those that journey to and fro. And there are two not far from the neighborhood of the Strait of Gades, one the Blessed Isle and another called the Fortunate. Although some reckon as islands of Ocean the twin promontories of Galicia and Lusitania, where are still to be seen the Temple of Hercules on one and Scipio's Monument on the other, yet since they are joined to the extremity of the Galician country, they belong rather to the great land of Europe than to the islands of Ocean. (8) However, it has other islands deeper within its own tides, which are called the Baleares; and yet another, Mevania, besides the Orcades, thirty-three in number, though not all inhabited. (9) And at the farthest bound of its western expanse it has another island named Thule, of which the Mantuan bard makes mention:
"And Farthest Thule shall serve thee."
      The same mighty sea has also in its arctic region, that is in the north, a great island named Scandza, from which my tale (by God's grace) shall take its beginning. For the race whose origin you ask to know burst forth like a swarm of bees from the midst of this island and came into the land of Europe. But how or in what wise we shall explain hereafter, if it be the Lord's will.

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