Visigothic Kingdom: Wikis


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Regnum Visigothorum
Gutthiuda Thiudinassus
Visigothic Kingdom


Greatest extent of the Visigothic Kingdom of Toulouse, c. 500, showing Territory lost after Vouille in light orange.
Capital Toulouse, Toledo
Language(s) Gothic, Latin
Religion Arianism, Nicene Christianity, Roman Catholic, and Judaism.
Government Monarchy
 - 418-419 Wallia
 - 714-721 Ardo
 - Visigoths are awarded land in Gallia Aquitania 418
 - Conquest by the Umayyads 721

The Visigothic Kingdom was a kingdom which occupied southwestern France and the Iberian Peninsula from the 5th to 8th century AD. One of the Germanic successor states to the Western Roman Empire, it was originally created by the settlement of the Visigoths under King Wallia in the province of Aquitaine in south-west France by the Roman government and then extended by conquest over all of the Iberian peninsula. The Kingdom maintained independence from the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, the attempts of which to re-establish Roman authority in Iberia were only partially successful and short-lived. By the early 6th century, the Kingdom's territory in Gaul had been lost to the Franks, save the narrow coastal strip of Septimania, but the Visigoth control of Iberia was secured by the end of that century with the submission of the Suebi and the Basques. Most of the Visigothic Kingdom was conquered by Islamic troops from Morocco in 716 AD, only the northern reaches of Spain remaining in Christian hands. These gave birth to the medieval Kingdom of Asturias, which was ruled by an elected monarch, who had to be a Goth, with the advice of the council, composed of the bishops and the lay magnates. Though several kings attempted to establish dynasties, none were successful.

The Visigoths and their early kings were Arian Christians and came into conflict with the Catholic Church, but after they converted to Nicene Christianity, the Church exerted an enormous influence on secular affairs through the Councils of Toledo. The Visigoths also developed the most extensive secular legislation in Western Europe, the Liber Iudiciorum, which formed the basis for Spanish law throughout the Middle Ages.




Federate Kingdom

Visigothic settlement and the Iberian peninsula, c. 418.

From 407 to 409, the Germanic Vandals, with the allied Alans and Suebi, crossed the frozen Rhine and swept into the Iberian peninsula. In response to this invasion of Roman Hispania, the Western Roman emperor Honorius enlisted the aid of the Visigoths to regain control of the territory. In 418, he rewarded his Visigothic federates under King Wallia by giving them land in the Garonne valley of Gallia Aquitania on which to settle. This was probably done under hospitalitas, the rules for billeting army soldiers. It seems more likely that at first the Visigoths were not given a large amount of land estates in the region like it was previously believed, but that they acquired the taxes of the region, with the local Gallic aristocrats now paying their taxes to the Visigoths instead of the Roman government.[1]

Theodoric I by Fabrizio Castello (1560-1617).

The Visigoths with their capital at Toulouse, remained de facto independent, and soon began expanding into Roman territory at the expense of the feeble Western empire. Under Theodoric I (418–51), the Visigoths attacked Arles (in 425 and 430) and Narbonne (436) but were checked by Flavius Aetius using Hunnic mercenaries, and Theodoric was defeated in 438. By 451, the situation had reversed and the Huns had invaded Gaul; now Theodoric fought under Aetius against Attila the Hun in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. Attila was driven back, however Theodoric was in killed in the battle.[2]

By 454, the Vandals had conquered North Africa and the Suevi had taken most of Spain. The Roman emperor Avitus now sent the Visigoths into Spain. Theodoric II (453–66) invaded and defeated the King of the Suevi, Rechiarius, at the battle on the river Orbigo in 456 near Asturica Augusta (Astorga) and then sacked Bracara Augusta (Braga) the Suevi capital. The Goths' sacking of the cities in Spain was quite brutal, they massacred a portion of the population and even attacked some holy places, probably due to the clergy's support of the Suevi.[3] Theoderic took control over Hispania Baetica, Carthaginiensis and southern Lusitania. In 461, the Goths received the city of Narbonne from the emperor Libius Severus in 461 in exchange for their support. This led to a revolt by the army and Gallo-Romans under Aegidius which saw Romans under Severus and the Visigoths fighting other Roman troops and was only contained in 465.[4]

Kingdom of Toulouse

The Iberian peninsula around 476.

In 466, Theodoric's brother Euric had him killed and was crowned as the new King. Under Euric (466–84) the Visigoths began expanding in France and consolidating their presence in Spain. Euric fought a series of wars with the Suebi who retained some influence in Lusitania, and brought most of this region under Visigothic power, taking Emerita Augusta (Merida) in 469. Euric also attacked the Western Roman Empire, capturing Hispania Tarraconensis in 472, the last bastion of Roman rule in Spain. By 476, he had extended his rule to the Rhone in the south having taken Arles and Marseille, and up to the Loire river in the north. In his campaigns, Euric had counted on a portion of the Gallo-Roman and Hispano-Roman aristocracy who served under him as generals and governors. The Visigothic Kingdom was formally recognized when the Western emperor Julius Nepos (473–480) signed an alliance with Euric, granting him the lands south of the Loire and west of the Rhone in exchange for military service and the lands in Provence (including Arles and Marseilles). The lands in Spain remained under de facto Visigothic control. After Odoacer deposed the last Roman emperor in the West, Romulus Augustulus, Euric quickly recaptured Provence, a fact which Odoacer formally accepted in a treaty.[5]

By 500, the Visigothic Kingdom, centered at Toulouse, controlled Gallia Aquitania and Gallia Narbonensis and most of Hispania with the exception of the Suebic Kingdom of Galicia in the northwest and small areas controlled by independent Spanish peoples like the Basques and the Cantabrians. Euric's son Alaric II (484–507) issued a new body of laws, the Breviarium Alarici and held a church council at Agde.

Clovis I fights the Visigoths.

The Visigoths now came into conflict with the Franks under their King Clovis I, who had conquered northern Gaul. Following a brief war with the Franks, Alaric was forced to put down a rebellion in Tarraconensis, probably caused by recent Visigoth immigration to Spain due to pressure from the Franks. In 507, the Franks attacked again, this time allied with the Burgundians. Alaric II was killed at the battle of Campus Vogladensis (Vouillé) near Poitiers, and Toulouse was sacked. By 508, the Visigoths had lost most of their Gallic holdings save Septimania in the south.[6]

Arian Kingdom of Hispania

Visigothic Hispania and the Byzantine province of Spania circa 560 AD.

After Alaric II's death, his bastard son Gesalec took power until he was deposed by Theodoric the Great, ruler of the Ostrogothic Kingdom who invaded and defeated him at Barcelona. Gesalic fled and regrouped, but was defeated again at Barcelona, and was captured and killed. Theoderic then installed his grandson Amalaric (511–31), the son of Alaric II, as king. Amalaric however was still a child and power in Spain remained under the Ostrogothic general and regent, Theudis. It was only after Theoderic's death (526) that Amalaric obtained control of his Kingdom. His rule did not last long, as in 531 Amalaric was defeated by the Frankish king Childebert I and then murdered at Barcelona. Afterwards Theudis (531–48) became king. He expanded Visigothic control over the southern regions, but he was also murdered after a failed invasion of Africa. Visigothic Spain suffered a civil war under King Agila I (549–54), which prompted the Eastern Roman emperor Justinian I to send an army and carve out the small province of Spania for the Eastern Empire along the coast of southern Spain. Agila was eventually killed and his enemy Athanagild (552–68) became the new king. He attacked the East Romans, but he was unable to dislodge them from southern Spain, and was obliged to formally acknowledge the suzerainty of the Empire.

Map showing the conquests of Leovigild c. 586.

The next Visigothic king was Liuvigild (569 - April 21, 586). He was an effective military leader and consolidated Visigothic power in Spain. Leovigild campaigned against the Romans in the south in the 570s and he took back Córdoba after another revolt. He also fought in the north against the Suebi and various small independent states, including the Basques and the Cantabrians. He pacified northern Spain, but he was unable to completely conquer these peoples. When Liuvigild established his son Hermenegild as joint ruler, a civil war ensued. Hermenegild became the first Visigothic king to convert to Catholicism due to his ties with the Eastern Empire, but he was defeated and sent into exile in 584. By the end of his reign Leovigild had united the entire Iberian peninsula, including the Suebic Kingdom which he conquered in 585 during a Suebi civil war that ensued after the death of King Miro. Leovigild established amicable terms with the Franks through royal marriages, and they remained at peace throughout most of his reign. Leovigild also founded new cities like Reccopolis and Victoriacum (Vitoria), the first barbarian king to do so.[7][8]

Catholic Kingdom of Toledo

Visigothic Hispania and its regional divisions in 700, prior to the Muslim conquest.
Conversion of Reccared.

On becoming King, Leovigild's son Reccared I (586–601) converted to Catholicism. This led to some unrest in the Kingdom, notably a revolt by the Arian bishop of Merida which was put down, he also beat back another Frankish offensive in the north. Reccared I then oversaw the Third Council of Toledo in 589, where he announced his faith in the Nicene creed and denounced Arian. He adopted the name Flavius, the family name of the Constantinian dynasty and styled himself as the successor to the Roman emperors. Reccared also fought the Byzantines in Hispania Baetica after they had begun a new offensive.[9]

Reccared's son Liuva II became king in 601 but was deposed by the Visigothic noble Witteric (601–610) ending the short-lived dynasty. There were various Visigothic Kings between 610 and 631 and this period saw constant regicide. This period also saw the definitive conquest of the Byzantine territories in the south. War continued in the north against the Basques and Asturians, as indeed it would continue for the rest of the Visigothic Kingdom's existence. These Kings also worked on religious legislature, especially King Sisebut (612–621) who passed several harsh laws against Jews and forced many Jews to convert to Christianity. Sisebut was also successful against the Byzantines, taking several of their cities including Málaga. The Byzantines were finally defeated by Suintila (621–631), who had captured all of their Spanish holdings by 625. Suinthila was deposed by the Franks and replaced by Sisinand.[10]

Spanish Visigothic gold tremisses in the name of emperor Justinian I, 7th century. The Christian cross on the breast defines the Visigothic attribution. British Museum.

The instability of this period can attributed to the power struggle between the Kings and the Nobility. Religious unification strengthened the political power of the church which it exercised through church councils at Toledo along with the nobles. The 4th council, held during the brief reign of Sisinand in 633 excommunicated and exiled the King replacing him with Chintila (636–639). The church councils were now the most powerful institution in the Visigothic state, they took the role of regulating the process of succession to the Kingship by election of the King by Gothic noble 'senators' and the church officials. They also decided to meet on a regular basis to discuss ecclesiastical and political matters which affected the Church. Finally, they decided that the King should die in peace and declared their person sacred, seeking to end the violence and regicides of the past. Despite all this, another coup took place and Chintila was deposed in 639 and King Tulga took his place, he was also deposed in the third year of his reign and the council elected the noble Chindasuinth as king.

King Chindasuinth from the Códex Albedense.

The reigns of Chindasuinth and his son Recceswinth saw the compilation of the most important Visigothic law book, the Liber Iudiciorum (completed in 654). The code included old laws by past kings like Alaric II in his Breviarium Alarici and Leovigild, but many were also new laws. The code was based almost wholly on Roman law, with some influence of Germanic law in rare cases. The new laws applied to both Gothic and Spanish populations who had been under different laws in the past and it replaced all older codes of law. Among the old laws that were eliminated were the harsh laws against Jews. The liber shows that the old system of military and civil divisions in administration was changing, and dukes (duces provinciae) and counts (comes civitatis) had begun taking more responsibilities outside their original military and civil duties. We also see that the servants or slaves of the king became very prominent in the bureaucracy and exercised wide administrative powers. With the Visigoth Law Codes, women could inherit land and title and manage it independently from their husbands or male relations, dispose of their property in legal wills if they had no heirs, and women could represent themselves and bear witness in court by age 14 and arrange for their own marriages by age 20. Chindasuinth (642–653) strengthened the monarchy at the expense of the nobility, he executed some 700 nobles, forced dignitaries to swear oaths and in the seventh council of Toledo laid down his right to excommunicate clergy who acted against the government. He was also able to maneuver his son Recceswinth on the throne sparking a rebellion by a gothic noble who allied with the basques but was put down. Reccesuinth (653–672) held another council of Toledo, which reduced sentences for treason and affirmed the power of the councils to elect Kings.[11]

Following Reccesuinth, King Wamba (672–680) was elected king. He had to deal with initial revolts in Tarraconensis and because of this he felt a need to reform the army. He passed a law declaring that all dukes, counts and other military leaders, as well as bishops had to come to the aid of the Kingdom once danger became known or risk harsh punishment. Wamba was eventually deposed in a bloodless coup. King Ervig (680–687) held further church councils and reneged the previous harsh laws of Wamba, though he still made provisions for the army. Ervig had his son in law Egica made king. Despite a rebellion by the bishop of Toledo, the sixteenth council was held in 693 which denounced the bishop's revolt. The seventeenth council in 694 passed harsh laws against the Jews, citing a conspiracy and many were enslaved, especially those who had converted from Christianity. Egica also raised his son Wittiza as co-ruler in 698. Not much is known about his reign, but a period of civil war quickly ensued between his sons (Achila & Ardo) and King Roderic who had seized Toledo.[12]

Muslim conquest

In 711, Tariq ibn Ziyad, a Muslim Berber client of Musa bin Nusair, the governor of Islamic Africa, invaded Spain with about 7000 men while Roderic was in the north fighting the Basques. Muslim sources indicate he was invited by enemies of Roderic, perhaps by Witiza's sons. By late July a battle took place at the Guadalete River in the province of Cádiz. Roderic was betrayed by his troops who sided with his enemies, and the king was killed in battle. The Muslims then took much of southern Spain with little resistance, and went on to capture Toledo, where they executed several Visigothic nobles. In 712, Musa, the governor of Ifriqiya, arrived with another army of 18,000, with large Arab contingents. He took Merida in 713 and invaded the North taking Zaragoza and Leon, which was still under King Ardo, in 714. After being recalled by the Caliph, Musa left his son Abd al-‘Aziz in command. By 716, most of Spain was under Islamic rule, with Gallia Narbonensis taken between 721 and 725. The only effective resistance was in Asturias, where a Visigothic nobleman named Pelagius (Pelayo) revolted in 718, allied with the Basques and defeated the Muslims at the small battle of Covadonga. Resistance also continued in the regions around the Pyrenees and the mountainous regions of northern Spain, where the Muslims were uninterested in maintaining authority. Most of the Arabs in Spain were from Yemen, and they settled in the river valleys of the Guadalquivir and the Ebro. The Berbers settled in the south and the Meseta Central in Castile. The Muslims generally left the Christians alone to practice their religion, although non-Muslims were subject to Islamic law and treated as second-class citizens.[13][14]

Kingdom of Asturias

The Kingdom of Asturias was established by Pelayo as the first Christian political entity to be established in the Iberian peninsula after the collapse of the Visigothic Kingdom. The subsequent wars between the Berbers and the Arabs and the remoteness of the Kingdom aided its survival. The Kingdom lasted from 718 until 925, when Fruela II became King of León.

Founding of cities

The Visigoths founded the only new cities in Western Europe between the fifth and eighth centuries.[15] It is certain (through contemporary Spanish accounts) that they founded four and there is a possible fifth city ascribed to them by a later Arabic source. All of these cities were founded for military purposes and three of them in celebration of victory.

The first, Reccopolis, was founded by Leovigild in 578 after his victory over the Franks, near what is today the tiny village of Zorita de los Canes. He named it after his son Reccared and built it with Byzantine imitations, containing a palace complex and mint, but it lay in ruins by the ninth century (after the Arab conquest).

At a slightly later date, Leovigild founded a city he named Victoriacum after his victory over the Basques.[16] Though it is often supposed to survive as the city of Vitoria, contemporary twelfth-century sources refer to this city's foundation by Sancho VI of Navarre.

Leovigild's son and namesake of the first Visigothic city founded his own sometime around 600. It is referred to by Isidore of Seville as Lugo id est Luceo in the Asturias, built after a victory over the Asturians or Cantabri.[16]

The fourth and possibly final city of the Goths was Ologicus (perhaps Ologitis), founded using Basque labour in 621 by Suintila as a fortification against the recently-subjected Basques. It is to be identified with modern Olite.[16]

The possible fifth Visigothic foundation is Baiyara (perhaps modern Montoro), mentioned as founded by Reccared in the Geography of Kitab al-Rawd al-Mitar.[17]

See also


  1. ^ Cameron, Ward; Perkins and Whitby. The Cambridge Ancient HIstory - Volume XIV. Late Antiquity: Empire and Successors, A.D. 425–600. p. 48.  .
  2. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 14, p. 113.
  3. ^ David Abulafia et al. The New Cambridge Medieval History, Volume 1 c. 500 – c. 700, p. 165.
  4. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 14, p. 24.
  5. ^ NC Medieval v. I, p. 167-171.
  6. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 14, p. 113-114.
  7. ^ NC Medieval v. I, p. 183 - 209.
  8. ^ Cambridge Ancient v. 14, p. 122-124.
  9. ^ NC Medieval v. I, p. 346-350.
  10. ^ NC Medieval v. I, p. 350-353.
  11. ^ NC Medieval v. I, p. 356-360.
  12. ^ NC Medieval v. I, p. 360-369.
  13. ^ NC Medieval v. I, p. 369-370.
  14. ^ David Abulafia et al. The New Cambridge Medieval History, Volume II c. 700 — c. 900, p. 256-58, 275-276.
  15. ^ Arte Visigótico: Recópolis
  16. ^ a b c Thompson, "The Barbarian Kingdoms in Gaul and Spain".
  17. ^ Lacarra, "Panorama de la historia urbana en la Península Ibérica desde el siglo V al X," La città nell'alto medioevo, 6 (1958:319–358), in Estudios de alta edad media española, p. 48.


  • Bachrach, Bernard S. "A Reassessment of Visigothic Jewish Policy, 589–711." American Historical Review 78, no. 1 (1973): 11–34.
  • Collins, Roger. The Arab Conquest of Spain, 710–797. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1989. Reprinted 1998.
  • Collins, Roger. Law, Culture, and Regionalism in Early Medieval Spain. Great Yarmouth: Variorum, 1992. ISBN 0 86078 308 1.
  • Collins, Roger. Visigothic Spain, 409–711. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. ISBN 0 631 18185 7.
  • Heather, Peter. The Goths. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.
  • James, Edward, ed. Visigothic Spain: New Approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980. ISBN 0 19 822543 1.
  • Lacarra, José María. Estudios de alta edad media española. Valencia: 1975.
  • Sivan, Hagith. "On Foederati, Hospitalitas, and the Settlement of the Goths in A.D. 418." American Journal of Philology 108, no. 4 (1987): 759-772.
  • Thompson, E. A.. "The Barbarian Kingdoms in Gaul and Spain", Nottingham Mediaeval Studies, 7 (1963:4n11).
  • Thompson, E. A.. The Goths in Spain. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969.
  • Wallace-Hadrill, John Michael. The Barbarian West, 400–1000. 3rd ed. London: Hutchison, 1967.
  • Wolfram, Herwig. History of the Goths. Thomas J. Dunlap, trans. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.


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