THE NORTHERN “BARBARIANS” IN ANCIENT HISTORY IN THE WEST AND IN EAST ASIA

The West – The Role of Barbarian Migration and Invasion

The notes presented here are mainly based on A. Bell-Fialkoff’s work The Role of Migration in the History of the Eurasian Steppe, 2000.

Musset (a French scholar) placed their Urheimat (the Germanic peoples, my note) in southern Scandinavia
in the late Bronze Age, an area where no pre-Germanic linguistic substratum had been found (p. 4). From there some Germanic tribes spread along the Baltic coast, toward the Oder. Others followed the coast of the North Sea, toward the Weser. By 1000 BC, according to Musset, German habitat stretched from the Ems to central Pomerania (Demougeot dated their appearance in Pomerania much later, from 400 BC [Demougeot, 1969, 45]. If we follow Musset, by 800 BC Germans reached Westphalia in the West and Vistula in the East. And 300 years later they could be found on the lower Rhine, in Thuringia and Lower Silesia (Musset, I).

Both Lucien Musset, Les invasions: les vagues germanique (1965) and Emilienne Demougeot, Le formation de L’Europe et les invasions barbares (1969-1974) are important in this context.

Origin of the Goths

One of the great controversies in barbarian history is the question of the origin of the Goths. Bell-Fialkoff argues:

It does confirm the existence of the Gotho-Gepidian culture in Pomerania and lower Vistula at this time (the so-called Wielbark culture) and links it to seven specific elements. Only one of these can be archaelogically traced to Scandinavia. Even more significant is the fact that the Wielbark culture had already acquired its distinctiveness by the time of the putative Gothic migration from Scandinavia. These considerations make some scholars doubt the veracity of the Gothic tradition.

And yet, there are several factors that support the traditional version. First, East Germanic languages (of which Gothic was one) were closer to North Germanic (i.e. Scandinavian) tongues than to West Germanic ones.

Such affinity implies a close relationship, if not direct derivation. The toponymics of the island of Gotland,
as well as the modern Swedish provinces of Öster-and Västergötland, where the Goths had supposedly
originated, also show linguistic affinity. Secondly Count Oxenstierna excavated incineration burials in Öster-
and Västergötland that, numerous in the second and first centuries B.C. suddenly became rare after about
50 B.C. This would suggest a disappearance of a significant portion of the previous population.

Of interest here are Carlo Alberto Mastrelli in Volker Bierbauer et al, I Goti, (1994) and Graf E.C. Oxenstierna, Die Urheimat der Goten. Leipzig, Mannus-Buecherei 73, 1945 (later printed in 1948).

The Barbarian Exodus

There have been many variations to explain the reason for the Gothic exodus. No doubt there was no pressure from non-Germanic groups.

An outright famine due to deteriorating climatic conditions is presented in this work as the most likely reason, and I must say I concur. Heather writes that in his view there was a limited migration of a few aristocratic clans. They might then in turn have organized the local poulation in given their name to it. But the disappearance of incineration burials, so Bell-Fialkoff, makes it more probable that all population strata were effected in Götaland. The local provenance of the Wielbark culture may be caused by rapid assimilation of the Goths (compare Normandy and Rus in the case of the Vikings).

Why did the Goths migrate to the southern coast of the Baltic? One possible reason presented by Bell-Fialkoff is that the migrators followed the traditional Amber Way, the old trade route linking southern Scandinavia with the eastern
Mediterranean as early as 1800 BC (see Demougeot, p. 20, referred to earlier).

As others before him Bell-Fialkoff also point to the fact that Sweden historically “looked” east and south, not west (which was the way Norwegians “looked”, for instance). The other side of the Baltic was the traditional area of interest. The natural thing, which is so obvious that it is not mentioned by the editor, is that if you want to go southeast from Götaland you end up in the Vistula delta and the surrounding area. The ethnogenesis occurred between the rivers Oder and Vistula.

Bell-Fialkoff concludes in his work

They were equally effective on the sea. They had probably learned their maritime skills on the Baltic for it would be impossible for a land-borne people to adapt to maritime warfare so fast.” (p.124)

A short chronology of the Goths and the Eruli 253 – 277 AD

253 AD

The Goths became masters of the Crimea, having captured the Bosporan fleet and the capital of the Bosporan kingdom, Panticapaeum, although the kingdom is said to have lasted until 343 AD.

255-57 AD

Major sea-raids in the Black Sea area.

256 AD

The Goths push into Greece. Their confederates, the Eruli, sack Athens in 267 AD.

268 AD A huge sea-borne expedition of the Goths and their allies spilled into the Aegean. They were robbing
and looting at will.

271 AD
A Gothic defeat by the Romans.

276-77 AD

Raids reach as far as Galatia and Cilicia in spite of defeat.

Two appendixes in the work by Bell-Fialkoff work are A. Climate and Migration and B. Some controversies. If further developed these matters could prove to be important.

II

The East Asia – Period of Five Barbarian Peoples and Sixteen Kingdoms

In China at around the same time as in the West northern barbarian peoples were conquered by the Chinese. The Hsiung Nu, the Chieh, the Hsien Pei, the Ti and the Chiang proved not so easily subdued.

These peoples were known as the “Five Barbarian Peoples” and had been allowed to settle in the northern border areas. They now took advantage of internal trouble in China and took the capital city of Loyang. The Tsin emperor was even captured. Emperor Yuan Ti had to give up control of large areas.

The entire Huang Ho valley now became a vast battlefield for the barbarian tribes. Sixteen kingdoms were founded and they fought each other. This period of Chinese history is called the Period of Five Barbarian Peoples and Sixteen Kingdoms. The barbarian invasion ended in 439 AD with the founding of the Wei dynasty.

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3 Responses to “THE NORTHERN “BARBARIANS” IN ANCIENT HISTORY IN THE WEST AND IN EAST ASIA”

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