Gothiscandza — From Gotland to Aujum
January 7, 2020 — Aujum was the name of a Gothic realm in ancient Scythia near the Black Sea (in modern Ukraine) that existed from the early 200s AD to about 400 AD.
Northern Goths began emigrating from Gotland (and possibly nearby coastal areas) in south-eastern Scandinavia in the early 100s and first established colonies in northern Poland (known in archeological circles as the Wielbark culture or Gothiscandza.) Several generations after the first Goths left Scandinavia, Filimer, a Gothic Reiks (the equivalent of a King), led his people to settle in Aujum in the region, which many historians call Minor Scythia.
As the Goths entered their new homeland near the Black Sea, they defeated the Scytho-Sarmatian tribal confederation known in historical sources as the Spali/Spalaei. The Spali group of tribes included a remnant of the once-mighty Eastern Saka/Royal Scythians and managed to provide several kings for Parthia/Persia. The Pontic Spali ruled several Sarmatian tribes and steppe-nomadic warrior clans.
The Kingdom of Aujum eventually became a dominant polity in the Black Sea region through trade and war. The Goths were skilled seafarers and controlled a trade route that went all the way to their ancient homeland on Gotland in the Baltic Sea, and beyond, via the Vistula River in present-day Poland. This gave the Goths the upper hand over their neighboring steppe-nomads, most of which had evolved in landlocked areas, as opposed to the Goths who uniquely combined skills of seafaring, raiding, trading, and war.
Filimer’s Gothic Kingdom of Aujum remained prosperous for almost 200 years until the Hunnic invasions in the 370s. The last known Gothic King to rule Aujum was Aírmanareiks, who died in 376 in the aftermath of the Hun invasions. Because of the Hun incursions, the Aujum Goths divided into three factions, two of which became known as the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths. A third, lesser-known faction was the Gothunni/Greutungs, which are often confused for Ostrogoths by historians. Many Goths joined the Hunnic warbands, whereas others sought refuge in the Roman Empire.
“We saw the mass of warriors approach us from the hillside, the round shields and short swords told us what we feared already, these were the Goths. Of course, not many of us survived that day, and we always wondered where the Goths found their strength.”
Right after the death of Aírmanareiks, Vinithar/Viniþar, a veteran warlord of the Aujum Goths, continued to protect the kingdom against Hunnic invasions. Vinithar (Vinitharius in Roman sources) won numerous decisive battles against Slavic, Hunnic, and rival Gothic warbands. While Vinithar was making his last stand, against his own Gothic kinsmen and several Hunnic warbands on the river Erak in modern Ukraine, historical sources claim Vinithar died in a duel fighting a Slavic or Turkic chieftain (the current name of Erak is Tylihul River; it’s located in southern Ukraine in the vicinity of Odesa.)
Goths begin to raid the Roman Empire in the 200s
In the first attested incursion in Thrace, the Goths were mentioned as Boranoi by Zosimus, and then as Boradoi by Gregory Thaumaturgus. The first incursion of the Roman Empire that can be attributed to Goths is the sack of Histria in 238. Several such raids followed in subsequent decades, in particular the Battle of Abrittus in 251, led by Cniva, in which the Roman Emperor Decius was killed. At the time, there were at least two groups of Goths, who were separated by the Dniester River: the Thervingi (led by the Balti dynasty and the Greuthungi (led by the Amali dynasty). Goths were at the time heavily recruited into the Roman Army to fight in the Roman-Persian Wars, notably participating at the Battle of Misiche in 242.
The first seaborne raids took place in three subsequent years, probably 255-257. An unsuccessful attack on Pityus was followed in the second year by another, which sacked Pityus and Trabzon and ravaged large areas in the Pontus. In the third year, a much larger force devastated large areas of Bithynia and the Propontis, including the cities of Chalcedon, Nicomedia, Nicaea, Apamea Myrlea, Cius and Bursa. By the end of the raids, the Goths had seized control over Crimea and the Bosporus and captured several cities on the Euxine coast, including Olbia and Tyras, which enabled them to engage in widespread naval activities.
After a 10-year gap, the Goths, along with the Heruli, another Germanic tribe from Scandinavia, raiding on 500 ships sacked Heraclea Pontica, Cyzicus, and Byzantium. They were defeated by the Roman navy but managed to escape into the Aegean Sea, where they ravaged the islands of Lemnos and Scyros, broke through Thermopylae and sacked several cities of southern Greece (province of Achaea) including Athens, Corinth, Argos, Olympia, and Sparta. Then an Athenian militia, led by the historian Dexippus, pushed the invaders to the north where they were intercepted by the Roman army under Gallienus. He won an important victory near the Nessos (Nestos) river, on the boundary between Macedonia and Thrace, the Dalmatian cavalry of the Roman army earning a reputation as good fighters. Reported barbarian casualties were 3,000 men. Subsequently, the Heruli leader Naulobatus came to terms with the Romans.
- A realm was called a “ríki” in Old Norse which was the language spoken by the Vikings. Ríki is cognate with “þiuda,” which means folk or people in the pre-Norse Gothic language. The ancient name for Sweden was Sví-þiud/Sví-tjod.
- The Truso/Gdańsk area in modern Poland is called Gothiscandza in historical sources. It corresponds archeologically to the Wielbark culture.
- The male name Erik hails from the Gothic title Reiks, which means King. Erik can be seen in the name Aírmanareiks.
- Several archaeologists and historians have proposed the theory the toponym Gothiscandza evolved, through Slavic influence, into Gdańsk.