« Joannes Scythopolita, a scholasticus in Palestine Jordanis, historian of the Goths Josephus, catholicos of Armenia »

Jordanis, historian of the Goths

Jordanis (Jornandes, the Gothic name, on his becoming an ecclesiastic was changed to Jordanis, Wattenbach, p. 62), historian of the Goths (and probably bp. of Crotona, in Brutium) in the middle of 6th cent.

I. Authorities.—Grimm, Kleinere Schriften, iii. 171, etc.; Ebert, Geschichte der Christlich Lat. Lit. (Dahn, 1875); Die Könige der Germanen, ii. 243–260, for Jordanis's use of words of constitutional importance; Anekdoton Holderi (Hermann Usener, Bonn, 1877); and for other authorities, Wattenbach, p. 55.

II. Writings.—His only works of which we have certain knowledge are the de Breviatione Chronicorum (more commonly but wrongly called de Regnorum Successione) and the de Getarum Origine et Rebus Gestis.

(1) The de Breviatione Chronicorum (Muratori, 571Scriptores Rerum Ital. i. 222–242) is a compendium of the history of the world, of little value, and only important as indicating the strong feeling of the Goth Jordanis that the power of the Roman empire was to last to the end of time.

(2) The de Getarum Origine et Rebus Gestis is one of the most important works written during the period of the Teutonic settlements in Western Europe. In amount of matter it may equal about 20 pages of this Dict. Its contents are most conveniently arranged under four heads (cf. Ebert. p. 532).

1 (c. i. 13). The work opens with a geographical account of the world and in particular of N. Europe and the island "Scandza." Jordanis then identifies the Goths with the Scythians, whose country he describes, and praises their learning and bravery. He then recounts their wars with the Egyptians and Amazons, and, identifying the Goths with the Getae, describes the deeds of Telephus and Tomyris. Cyrus, Xerxes, Alexander the Great, Caesar and Tiberius are mentioned. With chap. 18 he suddenly passes to the devastation of the banks of the Danube by the Goths and their victory over the Romans. He then pauses to give fuller details about the royal Gothic race of the Amali.

2 (c. 14–23). He carries the genealogy of the Amali down to Mathasuentha, the granddaughter of Theodoric and widow of Vitigis, who had just married, as he tells us, Germanus brother of Justinian. He then returns to the Goths and their movement into Moesia and Thracia. Claiming for the emperor Maximus a Gothic father, he thus raises the Goths to high honour. The deeds of Ostrogotha are then related, the victory over the Gepidae, the expeditions to Asia Minor, and Geberich's conquest of the Vandals. After Geberich came Hermanaric conqueror of the Heneti and many other tribes.

3 (c. 24–47). This division begins with an account of the Huns, their victory over the Goths, and the death of Hermanaric. He traces the separation of the Visigoths from the Ostrogoths, and follows their history. He shortly recounts Alaric's invasion of Italy, and introduces the story of Attila's invasion of Gaul and defeat. The battle of Châlons is described at considerable length. At the close of the section he describes the subjugation of Italy by Odoacer and the deposition of Augustulus.

4 (c. 48–60). Jordanis now returns to the Ostrogoths, once more mentions the defeat of Hermanaric, and this leads him to speak of the death of Attila. He describes the movement of the Ostrogoths into Pannonia, the reign of Theodemir and the birth of Theodoric. The dealings of Theodoric with Zeno, his entrance into Italy and his victory over Odoacer are recounted. The outline of the fortunes of the Goths in Italy is related very briefly, and the work closes with the captivity of Vitigis, and another mention of the marriage of Mathasuentha with Germanus.

His own words in the dedication of the de Getarum Origine or History of the Goths, convey an impression that he had written an abstract from memory of a three days' reading of the History of the Goths by Cassiodorius, adding extracts of his own from Latin and Greek writers, and that the beginning, middle, and end of the work were his own composition. It might certainly have been supposed that the preface at least was the composition of Jordanis himself. But the most convincing evidence of the writer's want of originality has been shewn by the discovery made by Von Sybel with reference to this preface (Schmidt, Zeitschrift für Geschichte, vii. 288). It is largely a literal copy of the introduction by Rufinus to his trans. of Origen's Comm. on Romans.

If the general view of the History of the Goths by Jordanis, first propounded by Schirren, and afterwards worked out by Köpke, Bessel, and others, be true, the place of Jordanis as a historian is but low. He does not acknowledge several authorities whom he largely uses and displays an array of authorities whom he only knows at second-hand. But it must be remembered that Jordanis does not claim originality, except under the clause in the preface ("initium finemque et plura in medio mea dictione permiscens"). The substratum of the whole work must still be ascribed to Cassiodorius. Is it, then, possible to disentangle the work of Cassiodorius from the setting in which Jordanis has placed it? A complete separation can, from the circumstances of the case, hardly be possible. Yet we may be tolerably sure that, though many of the extracts bear the traces of the treatment and colouring of Jordanis, enough remains of the lost work to bring us in to close contact with the mind and words of Cassiodorius, and, to a certain extent, to enable us to understand his purpose in his great work.

The history of the Goths was certainly completed before the death of Athalaric in 534 (Variae, ix. 25); Köpke and others suppose c. 533. Since the discovery of the Anekdoton Holderi, however, it has become practically certain that the Gothic History of Cassiodorius was composed some years before 533; probably not later than 521.

In two passages of his Variae Cassiodorius refers to his Gothic History. By far the more important passage, of which nearly every word helps to shew his purpose, is in ix. 25, where Cassiodorius describes his History in a letter addressed nominally by king Athalaric to the senate in 534.

Cassiodorius clearly shews that his primary object was not literary, but political. He saw the growing antagonism between Goths and Romans and Theodoric's efforts to lessen it. He saw the king trying to combine the old and the new elements and to form a kingdom in which both could live with mutual respect. He determined to assist by his writing his master's plans. He would try to draw the Goths and Romans together by shewing that both nations were alike honourable for the antiquity of their race and the glory of their history. He would tell the Goths of the greatness of the Roman empire, with whom they fought in ancient days, and would shew the Romans that the kingly family of the Amali was as noble as any Roman house. No one was better fitted than he to write a history of the Goths. His real knowledge of ancient writers, his constant opportunities of converse with the king and Gothic nobles, his 572father's share and his own in all the later or contemporary events, provided him with ample material. In the earlier part of the work we can clearly see from Jordanis how the political theory of Cassiodorius was worked out. He adopted the belief that the Getae and the Goths were the same nation. Further, he accepted the identity of the Goths with the Scythians, a theory stated by several Greek writers. Thus the Goths were brought into contact or conflict with the great nations of antiquity and even the Amazons appear as Gothic women. Yet even with all the notices he could collect from Greek or Roman authorities and the stories and sagas he heard at the court of Ravenna, his stock of accurate information about the early history of the Goths cannot have been large. The very theory with which he wrote shews that much must be accepted with reserve.

Thirty years later the Gothic bishop, in his adaptation of the work, shewed that he rested his hopes of the future quite as much on the Roman empire as on the Gothic race itself. However little individuality as a historian Jordanis may have had, it lay with him to choose and adapt his extracts from Cassiodorius in accordance with his own feelings, and there is enough of himself in the work to enable us to catch something of his spirit. For him the end of the great struggle between Goths and Romans had come; the war between Totila and Belisarius, or Narses, which was yet going on, had no supreme interest. The race of the Amali, with which he was connected and on which all his hopes were centred, had ceased to rule the Goths. His desires for the future rested rather on the union of the brother of the emperor with the granddaughter of Theodoric than on the issue of a struggle which he probably and rightly thought hopeless. His Catholic sympathies, rejecting the idea of an Arian ruler, and his family pride, alike contributed to this result. Three times he alludes to the marriage of Mathasuentha, widow of Vitigis (with whom she had been brought captive to Constantinople), to Germanus, brother of the emperor Justinian (cc. 14, 48, 60). In c. 60 he tells how Germanus died, leaving an infant son: "Item Germanus: in quo conjuncta Aniciorum gens cum Amala stirpe spem adhuc utriusque generis Domino praestante promittit."

Jordanis was the first since Tacitus to treat the history of the Teutonic nations from their side. The eternity of the Roman empire had impressed itself on the mind of Jordanis. The idea, therefore, that the Goths were equally learned and ancient must have been a support to him (and others like him) when Theodoric was ruling almost as a miniature emperor in Italy. But the thought of a union between the imperial family and the Amali could alone satisfactorily reconcile his hopes for the great family to which he belonged and his belief in the church and empire of Rome. This traditional belief in the empire and church was destined never to be altogether broken in Italy. After two centuries of struggles between rival principles in church and state the next Italian ecclesiastic who attained importance as a historian, Paulus Diaconus, himself, like Jordanis, of Teutonic race, was able to witness the return of imperial power of old Rome and to have friendly intercourse with the new Teutonic emperor. To Jordanis the first Teutonic historian of a Teutonic race such a possibility was unknown, and he could only fix fruitless hopes on a union of the Greek and the Goth to solve his difficulties. For the spirit of the age and times which we thus seem to gather from Jordanis's work we owe him a debt of gratitude, and also for his preservation, if only in a broken form, of fragments from the greatest work of Theodoric's great secretary.

The most important editions of the History of the Goths are: Muratori, Scriptores Rev. Ital. i. 189–241 (Medial. 1723). Migne, Patr. Cursus, lxix. Appendix to works of Cassiodorius. Jordanis, de Getarum Origine et Rebus Gestis, ed. C. A. Closs (Stuttg. 1861). In the Monumenta Germaniae the two works of Jordanis are undertaken by Mommsen himself. Neues Archiv. D. G. F. ältere Deutschen Geschichtskunde, ii. 5.

III. Life.—Jordanis tells us that his grandfather was notary to Candac, chief of the Alani in Moesia, that he himself was a notary before becoming an ecclesiastic, that he was of the Gothic race and apparently connected with the royal family of the Amali. We know from his own writings no more, and nothing further can be absolutely certain. But a discovery, first made by Cassel, has led to an extremely important and very highly probable conjecture about his identity. The name of one Jordanes Crotonensis, bp. of Crotona (now Cotrone) in Bruttium is found, with those of several other bishops, appended to a document sometimes called the Damnatio Theodori, issued by pope Vigilius in Aug. 551 at Constantinople. If this should be our Jordanis, it becomes exceedingly probable that the Vigilius to whom the Chronicle of Jordanis is dedicated and sent, along with the History of the Goths, is pope Vigilius. Vigilius was pope from 537 to 555. He had been made pope by the influence of Belisarius at Rome, at the request of the empress Theodora. After the issue of the Three Chapters by Justinian, which Vigilius apparently dared not sign when in Italy, the pope was summoned to Constantinople, which he reached on Christmas Day, 547. He was retained at Constantinople, or in the neighbourhood, for seven years, till he at last obtained permission from Justinian to return to Italy. At Constantinople he was much persecuted by the emperor and his party, who tried to force him to sign a confession of faith in accordance with their views. He was bold enough to excommunicate the bp. of Caesarea, and then, fearing the emperor's wrath, took sanctuary in the basilica of St. Peter in Constantinople. While in this church with his companions, and, among others, several Italian bishops, he issued (Aug. 551) the document in which the name of Jordanes, bp. of Cotrona, is found.

Several considerations make it exceedingly probable that Jordanis wrote his work at Constantinople. His almost complete ignorance of the later and contemporary events in Italy is thus explained, and his detailed acquaintance, shewn in several passages, with the affairs of the empire accounted for.


The bp. of Cotrona lived not far from the monastery in Bruttium (monasterium Vivariense) to which Cassiodorius had retired after his active life as a statesman. Here Jordanis first saw the 12 books of the Gothic history, and was allowed by the steward of Cassiodorius a second perusal of the work. When he was, as we presume, with the pope in Constantinople he was suddenly called upon to write his Gothic history, and, as he tells us, had to make the best of what materials he had at hand or could remember. The de Getarum Origine et Rebus Gestis was the result.


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