Visigoths, Vandals, Anglo-Saxons, 410-455 | The Early Middle Ages in Western Europe

In the year 378 at Adrianople, the Visigoths defeated the Roman legions of the Eastern emperor Valens, who was killed in battle. More and more Goths now freely entered the Empire. Unable to take Constantinople or other fortified towns, they proceeded south through the Balkans, under their chieftain Alaric, ravaging Greece and then marching around the Adriatic into Italy. In 410 they sacked Rome itself. Marie died soon afterward, and his successors led the Visigoths across Gaul and into Spain.

Here, in the westernmost reaches of the continental Roman Empire, the Visigoths founded a Spanish kingdom that lasted until the Muslim invasions of the eighth century. In southern Gaul a large area (Aquitaine) was given to them by the Western Roman emperor Honorius (r. 395-423), into whose family their king married. Since the Visigoths were Arians, they had some difficulty in ruling the orthodox Christians among their subjects.

Almost simultaneously with the Visigothic migration, another Germanic people, the Vandals, crossed the Rhine westward into Gaul and moved southward into southern Spain, where they settled in 411. The southernmost section, Andalusia (from Vandalusia), still reflects their name. The Vandals entered North Africa from Spain, moved eastward across modern Morocco and Algeria and established their capital at Carthage in 439. Here they built a fleet and raided Sicily and Italy, finally sacking Rome (455) in a raid that has made the word vandalism synonymous to this day with wanton destruction of property. They held on in North Africa until 533, when the emperor Justinian conquered their kingdom.

Under pressure on the Continent, the Romans early in the fifth century began to withdraw their legions from Britain. As they left, Germanic tribes from across the North Sea in what are now northern Germany and Denmark began to filter into Britain. These Angles, Saxons, and Jutes gradually established their authority over the Celtic Britons, many of whom survived as a subject class. The barbarians soon founded seven Anglo- Saxon kingdoms, of which Northumbria, Mercia, and Wessex successively became the most important. Scotland and Wales remained Celtic, as did Ireland, which was in large measure converted to Christianity in the fifth century by Catholic missionaries coming from Gaul, led by a Briton, Patrick (c. 389—c. 461).

Ireland escaped the first great wave of barbarian invasions, and its Celtic church promoted learning, poetry, and the illustration of manuscripts by paintings. By the end of the sixth century, Catholic Christianity was moving into England from both Celtic Ireland and Rome. Irish monasticism became so strong that many Irish monks and scholars went out from Ireland as missionaries to convert the heathen on the Continent, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *