From Gotland to Aujum: The Northern Goths Who Invaded the Roman Empire 100 Years Before Attila
January 15, 2020 — Most have never heard of the “Kingdom of Aujum,” an ancient kingdom founded by Goths from the Scandinavian peninsula and the island of Gotland, who moved to the northern Black Sea area of modern-day Ukraine in the early 200s CE (after settling in Poland for a century.)
In search of fertile lands to settle, wealth to be amassed, and adventure to be had, Gothic tribes began emigrating from Gotland and nearby coastal areas in southern Scandinavia and adjacent Baltic Sea islands at the start of the 1st century CE, which led to Gothic colonies being established on the shores of northern Poland, an area known in archeological circles as the Wielbark culture or Gothiscandza. There are at least two highly esteemed Roman chroniclers, Pliny the Elder (CE 23/24–79) and Tacitus (CE 56/120), who refer to the mouth of the Vistula River in north-eastern Poland as the land of the “Gutones” (Pliny) and “Gothones” (Tacitus).
After dwelling in Gothiscandza for about 100 years, up until around 150-170 CE, Filimer, who was a Gothic Reiks (a title equivalent to King), led his people further east along the Vistula. Filimer, his Goths, and a few other tribes picked up along the way, including the Ulmerugi Germano-Goths whom some believe had migrated from south-western Norway, reached the northern Black Sea area around 175 CE.
Shortly after the Goths and Ulmerugi settled in Aujum, they came into conflict with a Scytho-Sarmatian tribal confederation known in historical sources as the Spalaei, who already claimed the fertile lands north of the Black Sea. The Spalaei confederation was ruled by a remnant of the once-mighty Royal Scythians (the Saka), proud warrior nomads with a documented legacy of having provided several kings for ancient Persia. However, the Spalaei were no match for the formidable Goths and their stoic comrades the Ulmerugi, who were uniquely skilled in organized warfare, shipbuilding, seafaring, raiding, trading, and metallurgy. Thus the Gothic Populus of Aujum possessed a unique combination of skills that gained them the upper hand in war, trade, and “political” organization.
The Goths maintained control over the trade route that went all the way back to Scandinavia and Gotland through the Vistula River. The Black Sea-Vistula-Gotland trade network was once part of the infamous “Amber Road“ of the Bronze Age and gained the Aujum Goths the upper hand over their steppe-nomadic neighbors. Most of which had evolved in landlocked areas and therefore lacked naval capacity, and thus were at the mercy of Gothic traders to export their Silk Road items to Scandinavia.
GOTHS BEGIN TO RAID THE ROMAN EMPIRE
Only some 30-40 years after settling in Aujum, the first Gothic raid into Thrace and Dacia, in present-day Romania, then part of the Roman Empire, was reported by Byzantine chronicler Gregory Thaumaturgus (CE 213/270) who called the northern warriors Boranoi or Boradoi, a term related to “Boreans” (of Hyperborean fame.) The Boranoi Goths of Aujum are recorded as having sacked the ancient Greek city of Histria on the Black Sea coast of present-day Romania in 238. Several Gothic raids followed in the subsequent decades, in particular the Battle of Abritus in 251, led by the Gothic King Cniva, who invaded the Roman Empire in 250 and successfully captured the city of Philippopolis (Plovdiv in Bulgaria) and killed the Roman Emperor Decius and his son Herennius Etruscus. This was the first time a Roman Emperor had been killed in combat against barbarians. King Cniva was allowed by the new Roman Emperor, Trebonianus Gallus, to return north with his spoils of war (and, much like the later Attila, warlord of the Huns, Cniva was paid tribute to stay out of the Roman empire.)
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 in the 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 a decisive 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.
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, often misspelled as the Greutungs, which formed part of the Ostrogoths but had adopted a more warlike, Hunnish life-style. The Gothunni where only one group of Goths who joined the Hunnic warbands, whereas others, including both Ostrogoths and Visigoths, sought refuge from the Huns in the Roman Empire.
- 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 literature. The ancient name for Sweden was Sví-þiud/Svítjod.
- The Truso/Gdańsk area in modern Poland is called Gothiscandza in historical sources. It corresponds archeologically to the Wielbark culture.
- The male name Erik stems from the Gothic title Reiks, meaning King. Erik can be glimpsed in the name Aírmanareiks, which is cognate with the kingly Latin prefix Rex, and the Gallo-Roman kingly suffix -rix; i.e., Vercingetorix.
- Several archaeologists and historians have proposed the theory the toponym Gothiscandza evolved, through Slavic influence, into Gdańsk.
- Árheimar (Old Norse “Homeland”) was the capital of the Goths, according to the Hervarar saga. According to the saga, Árheimar was located on Danparstathir, identified by some as the river Dnieper.
- Legend has it the old Goths of Scandinavia had themselves once arrived from the Sea of Azov in the Black Sea area. Azov is considered by some to be the combination of two Old Norse words, ása and hóf; thus, Ásahóf/Azov can be conceptually interpreted as “Horselords/Hooves of the Æsir.”