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The GOTHS were a powerful group of Germanic people who played a major role in bringing down the Roman Empire in the West during the 3rd century AD. The Goths came essentially from the most northern edges of the Vistula River system, around the Baltic Sea. The Gothic culture developed as did their population during the centuries and by the late 2nd century AD, economic pressures causes them to begin an expansion moving steadily outward from their native lands. The Gothic migration southward where they began to excounter the frontier region of the Roman Empire.

The great Gothic migration involved hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. While to some degree the growing unrest in the East played some role in pushing them southward, there is also little doubt that the border defenses of the Roman Empire had also been seriously weakened by the political instability and economic pressures that were building within Rome itself. Of course the rumor of great plunder and riches available in Roman territory acted like a magnet much in the same way as the rumors of streets paved in gold in America prompted great European migrations during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Roman border was breached in a sudden burst during the reign of Severus Alexander (231-232 AD) as hoard of Goths penetrated the Danubian line. By 238 AD, the Gothic position was so threatening to the Roman Empire that Emperor Maximinus was forced to pay them vast amounts of tribute. While his aim may have been to buy time, this demonstrated weakness on the part of the Romans who were still in the middle of internal political struggles for power. Maximinis was ultimately defeated by internal imperial rivalries. Within less than four years thereafter, the Goths began a series of raids along the Danube.

During the reign of Philip I in 248 AD, the Gothic invasion began with great intensity under their King Argaithius. Philip I launched a major counter-defense and achieved some success. Unfortunately, Philip died trying to fight off his successor, Trajan Decius. Rome simply was decaying gradually from internal struggles which weakened the economy and constantly pitted one legion against another in a struggle for power. The Romans simply did not consider the Goths to be a forced that would threaten the entire Empire, but rather more as a barbarian force looking for plunder rather than power.

In 249 AD, the new Emperor Trajanus Decius found the Goths to be his major enemy in under a new king, Kniva. The Goths poured over the Danube once again and Decius also launched a massive counter-defense beating the Goths back at first with some success. However, the Goths returned once again later in that same year. This time they were much better organized. They formed an alliance with several other enemies of Rome, including the Dacian Carpi. Full scale invasion took place and the Roman Empire suddenly found itself besieged as war raged on in Moesia, Dacia and even in Thrace, while the main body of the Gothic invasion was preparing a descent into the region of the Black Sea.

While the legions of Trajan Decius fought valiantly, the Romans suffered a major defeat in 250 AD at Beraea, in Thrace, under the military leadership of King Kniva. Decius spent the following year reorganizing and rebuilding his troops. He attacked the Goths again in 251 AD and this time Decius suffered another major defeat for the Empire which also cost him his life in the battle.

After the defeat of Trajan Decius, the Goths emerged as the new masters of the entire Danube territory all the way to the Black Sea.Trebonianus Gallus emerged as the new Emperor who could do nothing to reverse the humiliating defeat of the Empire. The Goths now turned to Illyricum and Thrace where they burned and plundered their way across the region. By 253 AD, the Goths set sail along the Black Sea headed straight for Asia Minor which was wide open and waiting to be plundered.

Between 256 and 270 AD, the Gothic tribes, under their kings, invaded both Asia Minor and the Balkans. The once great Eastern cities of Chalcedon, Bithynia, Ephesus and Nicomedia were burned, plundered and nearly destroyed under the relentless force of the Goths. The invasion of the Goths reached as far down as Lydia, Phrygia, parts of Asia, Cappadocia and even Galatia. The success of the Goths encouraged other barbarian tribes to invade Roman territory such as the Heruli, the Carpi and the Bastarnae. More barbarian ships sailed throughout the Black Sea bringing more death and destruction to the entire Eastern regions of the Empire.

By now, the Roman Empire showed the signs of a wounded animal. The monetary system began to collapse under especially the EmperorGallienus who tried desperately to do what he could, which was little beyond a single notable victory at Naissus in 268 AD over the Heruli tribe.

The Roman Empire finally began to regroup under the strong leadership of the Emperor Aurelian who began the massive task of restoring Roman pride and strength. Aurelian was brilliant. He not merely launched defensive measures, he moved on the offensive against the Goths and simply demolished them through a series of engagements. The Gothic hords were driven out of the Balkans and into Dacia. Aurelian also greatly restored the Black Sea defenses, which help to allow those regions to rebuild their economies as well. However, Aurelian failed to pursue the barbarians into the Roman province of Dacia, pulling back and establishing the new border once again along the natural border as originally defined by Augustus – the Danube.

Aurelian’s decision to redraw the borders left Dacia in the hands of the Carpi and the Goths. Once the Goths were contained, they themselves began to divide into two distinct groups – Ostrogothic and Visigothic kingdoms. These groups would evolve into powerful states that would ultimately bring down the Roman Empire in the West.

The Monetary History of the World
© Martin A. Armstrong