Goths in Roman Britain

A Roman era skeleton found in Gloucester in 1972 has mystified archaeologists for decades. It was found with a fancy silver belt and shoe fittings and an inlaid silver knife from somewhere in the Balkan/Southern Russia area, which is a long ways away for someone in 400 A.D. Britain.

A Goth in Roman BritainThey knew from his burial in a mausoleum and from his quality vestments that he was obviously someone important, but they didn’t know if he was a local man who could afford exotic gear or someone who came from the same place as the silver.

Now thanks to a research grant, the Gloucester City Museum has been able to analyze the skeleton with state of the art technology and the results are in: he was a Goth from east of the Danube, most likely a high ranking mercenary in the Roman army.

(Oh, and he was also a vegetarian. A lot of these Romanized tough guys seem to have subsisted primarily on a vegetarian diet.)

David Rice, archaeology curator at Gloucester City Museum, said: “Archaeologists have always wondered who he was and what he was doing in Gloucester.

“We’ve discovered he came from way outside of the Roman Empire, from the other side of the Danube.”

It was possible to detect he lived in very cold regions as a child, before moving west, he said.

Mr Rice added: “To have such an unusual person in this city means that Gloucester was a more important place in Roman times than we’ve previously thought.”

That means there were Romanized Goth functionaries in the far-flung areas of the Empire just 10 years before Alaric and his Visigoth army sacked Rome. Before then, they had been in a military covenant with the Byzantine Empire since the middle of the 4th c.

That relationship soured under the Emperor Valens. They defeated and killed him at Adrianople in 378 A.D.

Even Alaric had various deals with the Eastern and Western Empire at various times. The Roman Senate went so far as to grant him a generalship. Of course, it was only to stop him from besieging the city, and the deal fell through soon enough. Hence the sack.

Pardon my rambling. The point of all this blather is that Goths were involved in the Roman military, but they were also fighting against it for centuries. The fact that a high-ranking Goth would be deployed to Britannia province in 400 A.D. is very much unexpected.

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